Froome extends Vuelta lead as Alaphilippe takes maiden Grand Tour stage win
Julian Alaphilippe climbed to a maiden Grand Tour victory and Chris Froome extended his lead on stage eight of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday.
Alaphilippe was ruled out of the Tour de France on home soil due to a knee injury, but made up for that disappointment by giving Quick-Step Floors a third stage win of this year's Vuelta.
The Frenchman was among a group of 21 to make an early breakaway on the 199.5-kilometre route from Hellin to Xorret de Cati and had enough in the tank to outsprint Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) at the finish.
Alaphilippe won by a margin of two seconds in searing heat, while Froome battled to stay on course for his first Vuelta-Tour de France double.
The Team Sky rider stretched his lead from 11 to 28 seconds after dropping general classification rivals on a brutal Xorret de Cati climb.
Alberto Contador made a move on that final ascent, but Froome reeled him in and got away from the Spaniard as he sensed an opportunity to strengthen his grip on the GC.
Contador dug in to catch Froome and the pair crossed the line together in a downhill finish, the Briton gaining 17 seconds on a group which included Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru and closest rival Esteban Chaves.
There was drama before the stage had even started, as Team Sunweb announced that Tour de France King of the Mountains Warren Barguil had been thrown out of the race for failing to obey team orders.
GOOD DAY/BAD DAY
Alaphilippe revelled in an unexpected victory and is hopeful there is more to come for his team after a day to remember.
"It's incredible. I didn't expect to win the stage," he said. "For me, it's a little bit complicated. I wasn't feeling so good in the past two or three stages, but I think it was the same for everyone.
"The team has been doing great since the start of La Vuelta. We're always on the front. I was thinking tomorrow might be a good final for me, but today a big group went away after 40kilometres.
"Matteo Trentin helped me to get at the front. I'm speechless. It's unbelievable. We already have three stage wins and it's not finished."
Froome was also able to reflect on a job well done, but Barguil was left with very different emotions after his race was cut short.
"The Vuelta is a great race and it is disappointing to leave but this is a decision from the team that I need to accept," said the Frenchman.
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) 4:37:55
2. Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) +0.02
3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe)+0.02
4. Serge Pauwels (Team Dimension Data) +0.26
5. Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) +0.27
1. Chris Froome (Team Sky) 32:26:13
2. Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) +0.28
3. Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) +0.41
1. Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) 49 points
2. Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) 44 points
3. Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates) 43 points
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
1. Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) 38 points
2. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) 17 points
3. Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) 12 points
A 176.3 km stage from Orihuela to Cumbre del Sol is to come on Sunday, with an uphill finish on a day which is expected to see another breakaway.