March 25, 2017

REUS, Spain (AP) Chris Froome fell out of contention for the Tour of Catalonia after ceding over 25 minutes to leader Alejandro Valverde during the sixth stage on Saturday.

A group attack that included Valverde's Movistar broke away early and left Froome behind in the peloton. The three-time Tour de France winner, who entered the stage second in the classification at 21 seconds behind Valverde, was unable to close the gap and faded the rest of the way.

''On the first mountain the peloton broke apart, above all on the descent, and we caught Sky off guard,'' Valverde said. ''They couldn't find a way to make up the ground.''

Froome's Sky team tweeted before the stage was finished that ''It's game over at (hash)VoltaCatalunya.''

''We made a big mistake. I'm not going to try and make an excuse, there is no excuse,'' Sky team director Nico Portal said. ''It looks like it was a positioning issue. The guys weren't in the top positions on the first descent and this is what can happen.

''Maybe it's better to happen here, and we learn from it, than in some of the bigger races this season.''

A similar slip by Sky hurt Froome's chances at the Spanish Vuelta last year, when he and his teammates were surprised by an attack that included eventual race winner Nairo Quintana.

Daryl Impey of South Africa edged Valverde in a sprint finish to win the 189-kilometer (117-mile) ride from Tortosa to Reus that crossed snow-covered mountainous terrain in 4 1/2 hours.

Valverde, who took the lead after winning Friday's stage, increased his advantage to 53 seconds over nearest chaser Alberto Contador.

Valverde leads the race despite being penalized one minute on Wednesday after race officials ruled that some Movistar riders pushed one another on Tuesday during the team time trial.

Valverde can claim a second title at the event if he protects his advantage during Sunday's 139-kilometer (86-mile) route finishing at a hilltop overlooking Barcelona. He won the weeklong race in northeastern Spain in 2009.

''In theory we shouldn't have too many difficulties, but I am sure there will be some attacks,'' Valverde said about the final stage.

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