Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez moved into the race leaders red jersey after finishing two seconds clear of Italy’s Fabio Aru on stage 16 of the Vuelta a España, while Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck rode the final kilometres of the route from Luarca to Ermita de Alba to earn the stage win.
Schleck, given a 12 month suspension in 2013 following a positive drug test for the diuretic xipamide at the previous year's Tour de France, formed part of a five-man breakaway in the opening kilometres of the 185km stage which also included France’s Pierre Rolland, Colombia’s Rodolfo Torres and Spanish duo Carlos Verona and Omar Fraile.
As the group approached the top of the Alto Aristébano at the 16km mark they were joined by New Zealand’s George Bennett, France’s Cyril Lemoine, America’s Lawrence Warbasse and Italy’s Moreno Moser and, thanks to the strength of the group, they stayed clear for the remainder of the mountainous stage.
At its peak their advantage over the peloton stood at nearly 22 minutes but the lead was halved as they reached the Alto del Cordal at 35km to the finish, with the climb prompting Schleck to launch his first bid for the stage win.
The acceleration of the Luxembourger was matched by Bennett, Torres and Verona, but only Torres was able to stay with Schleck as they ascended the Ermita de Alba with seven kilometres of racing remaining and another burst proved enough for the Trek Factory racing rider to drop his rival.
Schleck crossed the line in 5 hours 49min 56sec to earn a maiden stage win at the Vuelta.
Down the road, however, the battle between the general classification hopefuls was starting to ignite with the finish in sight.
Just as he had done on route to the yesterday’s stage victory, Rodriquez attacked late in the stage to test his rival Aru, who had held a one second advantage over the Spaniard at the start of the day.
The race leader was able to limit his losses to just two seconds, despite failing to go with Rodriquez, crossing the line in 5:58:49.
It still proved enough for him to lose the red jersey which passed to Rodriquez, who now holds a single second lead.
The Netherlands’ Tom Dumoulin lost more time to drop even further behind Poland’s Rafal Majka in the battle for the final podium position, but his prowess in the individual time trial could boost his bid to his general classification hopes when the race is due to resume after tomorrow’s rest day.
The only time trial of the race is due to take place in Burgos and the 38.7km route presents Dumoulin with a big chance to eat into the advantage of Rodriquez, whom he lies 1:51 behind, as well as Aru and Majka.
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