Froome gains valuable Vuelta seconds as Lutsenko solos to victory
Chris Froome strengthened his position as Vuelta a Espana leader on Wednesday with a late burst after Alexey Lutsenko had taken victory on stage five.
Froome's advantage over Tejay van Garderen in the general classification grew from two seconds to 10 atop the final climb to Alcossebre, the Team Sky rider crossing the line over four minutes after Lutsenko's solo break.
The four-time Tour de France winner had Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) for company, but Van Garderen (BMC Racing) could not keep pace with the group.
While Froome had men alongside him, the same could not be said for Lutsenko as he bided his time across the four category climbs before making his move.
Marco Haller did his best to stay with the Astana rider but with three kilometres to go Lutsenko pushed clear, and it was enough to take an impressive solo win.
"This is the biggest win of my career, no doubt," said Lutsenko. "It was very hard before the final climb, and we were a bit alone out there.
"Into the headwind we knew it would be tough, especially with lots of guys chasing behind. In the end it was a great stage for me, and I want to thank my team-mates."
Froome was not the only classification leader to grow his lead on the 175.7km route as Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) took top points on all four climbs to move clear of his nearest King of the Mountains challengers.
GOOD DAY/BAD DAY
While his lead over Van Garderen may have only grown by eight seconds, Froome took significant chunks out of GC rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (Astana).
Nibali lost 26 seconds, while another 11 slipped away for Aru, but there was finally better news for Contador as he battled with Froome after his recent illness - the Spaniard maintaining his three minutes and 10 seconds deficit.
While Contador was able to battle through his stomach bug, the same cannot be said for Trek team-mate John Degenkolb who was forced to abandon ahead of stage five.
"Unfortunately I got sick two days ago and that was that. I tried to find myself a way through the stages, hoping that my body would recover, because I had the legs but when you cannot breathe properly it's just impossible to keep going," he said.
And Contador leads Froome and 2 others across the line!-- Trek-Segafredo (@TrekSegafredo) August 23, 2017
He is back!
1. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) 4:24:58
2. Merhawi Kudus (Team Dimension Data) +0.42
3. Marc Soler (Movistar) +0.56
4. Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates) +1.11
5. Alexis Gougeared (AG2R La Mondiale) +1.24
1. Chris Froome (Team Sky) 18:07:10
2. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) +0.10
3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) +0.11
1. Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) 49 points
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) 31 points
3. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) 29 points
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
1. Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) 30 points
2. Lluis Mas Bonet (Caja-Rural) 11 points
3. Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale) 10 points
Another day in the hills awaits as Thursday's route takes in five category climbs on the way from Villarreal to Sagunt.
Any breakaway group could enjoy plenty of success on stage six, with the final climb likely to prove decisive with its gradients of up to 17 per cent.