September 09, 2017

ALTO DE L'ANGLIRU, Spain (AP) Chris Froome is poised to break his streak of runner-up finishes at the Spanish Vuelta after the Tour de France champion maintained his overall lead on the final competitive stage of the grand tour on Saturday.

Froome increased his advantage over Vincenzo Nibali through the rainy 117.5-kilometer (73-mile) mountainous ride in Stage 20 from Corvera de Asturias to a grueling summit finish at the Alto de l'Angliru.

Under race tradition, the top riders do not challenge each other in the professional final stage.

Dominant at the Tour in recent years, Froome has finished the Vuelta as runner-up on three occasions. He came in behind Juanjo Cobo in 2011, Alberto Contador in 2014, and Nairo Quintana last year.

Barring a mishap or accident on Sunday's arrival in Madrid, Froome will become only the third rider to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season. Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) achieved the feat when the Vuelta was still held in the spring before the Tour.

Set to finally claim an elusive Vuelta title, Froome allowed himself a huge smile as he crossed the finish line. The British rider extended his lead of 1 minute, 37 seconds at the start of the day to 2:15 ahead of Nibali, the Italian who won the Vuelta in 2010 and finished second in 2013.

''It's an absolutely incredible feeling. What a way to end such a massive three weeks of racing, having completed the Tour-Vuelta double,'' Froome said. ''Thanks to my team, which has been fantastic.''

Contador, who will retire after the race, won Stage 20 with an attack from distance to put a fine finish to his career that has included seven grand tour wins, including three Vueltas.

Contador left his last adversary with five kilometers left, with Spanish fans cheering him on as he powered his way up the brutal last ascent.

Froome and Sky teammate Wout Poels dropped Nibali on the last section. Poels crossed second right in front of Froome, 17 seconds after Contador.

Nibali's Bahrain-Merida team set the pace up the second of three climbs on the stage in the northern mountains. The move shed all but the hardiest riders from Froome's group heading up the category-one Alto del Cordal, only for Nibali to fall on the descent on the wet road and needing help from a teammate to make up the lost time. Marc Soler, who was at that point leading the stage, and David de la Cruz also crashed on the same descent.

After losing several minutes on the race's second stage, Contador dedicated the rest of his final event to attacking whenever possible. The Madrid-born rider didn't disappoint with another daring attack to claim his second career win at the demanding Alto de l'Angliru in 3 1/2 hours.

It was a brilliant final page of a great but controversial career. The 34-year-old Contador is second only to the great Miguel Indurain in Spanish cycling lore after winning the Tour twice. But he was also shamed when stripped of a third Tour title for doping.

''There cannot be a more beautiful finish than this, winning at Alto de l'Angliru to put an end to my sporting career,'' Contador said. ''I wanted to go out like this, and there is no better place than here to say goodbye.''

Contador just missed joining Froome, Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin on the podium.

''It was such a tough climb. We did everything we could to catch Alberto, but he was too strong,'' Froome said after he embraced Contador, one of his top rivals for years. ''Congratulations to him. For him to finish his career like this is beautiful.''

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