September 03, 2016

GOURETTE, France (AP) Robert Gesink of the Netherlands won the Spanish Vuelta's grueling 14th stage in the French Pyrenees on Saturday, while Chris Froome kept Nairo Quintana from increasing his overall lead.

Quintana launched no less than six attacks against Froome on the last of four mountain ascents, but the Tour de France winner responded each time to stay within a minute of the Colombian climber entering the race's final week.

''We tried everything to shake Froome off my wheel, but on every one of my attacks he knew how to hang on,'' Quintana said. ''My legs are tired but I hope that I can defend myself in the third week.''

Gesink, riding for Lotto NL-Jumbo, fought off leg cramps as he surged ahead of Kenny Elissonde and Egor Silin to win the 196-kilometer (122-mile) route finishing at the Col d'Aubisque category-one summit after nearly six hours.

Gesink proved the hardiest of an early breakaway group of around 40 riders to claim his first win at a grand tour.

''I wasn't sure I could do it, but I kept on fighting,'' he said.

The route, which started in Urdax, Spain, before crossing into France, was described by race organizers as one of the most demanding in the 71 editions of the Vuelta.

It lived up to its billing, with three category-one climbs setting up the ascent to the Col d'Aubisque, a classic on the Tour with its breathtaking views.

Quintana's Movistar teammate, Alejandro Valverde, was the major victim of the mountain marathon, fading fast at the start of the last climb. The former Vuelta winner lost nine minutes in the overall standings and plummeted from third place to 19th.

''This wasn't my day,'' Valverde said. ''The important thing is that we still have Nairo as leader and we have to do all we can for him.''

The route offered the chance for team directors to use tactics to shake up the overall standings.

Orica-BikeExchange proved the most astute as it succeeded in moving riders Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates into third- and fourth-place overall.

While Chaves pulled away late and moved to within two minutes of the lead, a long-distance solo attack by Yates on the third ascent helped him knock almost two minutes off the gap with Quintana and move into contention.

Movistar started the stage by putting three riders in the breakaway to pressure Froome's Sky, only to see Froome then stay pegged to Quintana, and Valverde vanish from the title race.

''Valverde is out of the game. That's good news,'' Sky sports director Dario Cioni said. ''Chaves and Yates gained some time to move them up on the (general classification), but Chris has more than a minute on them, so that's comfortable for the moment.''

The race continues on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees on Sunday, with a 118.5-kilometer (74-mile) route from Sabinanigo to a category-one finish at Sallent de Gallego.

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