Frenchman rules iconic Vuelta climb

In Photo: Thibaut Pinot wins the Spanish Vuelta’s challenging 15th stage as Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (below) signs a new three-year contract with Team Sky.

LAGOS DE COVADONGA, Spain—Thibaut Pinot won the challenging 15th stage of the Spanish Vuelta with a dominant charge on the iconic climb into Lagos de Covadonga on Sunday, while Simon Yates stayed close and added a few seconds to his overall lead.

The Frenchman Pinot broke away under dense fog with about 6 kilometers to go and the Groupama-FDJ rider held on for an impressive victory after a 178.2-kilometer ride through the Picos de Europa mountains in northern Spain.

He crossed the line 28 seconds in front of Miguel Angel Lopez and 30 seconds ahead of Yates. Alejandro Valverde was fourth, 32 seconds off the lead.

“I went for this victory, it feels really good,” said Pinot, who already had career wins in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. “I was obsessed with winning on all three Grand Tours and I’ve just done it.”

Yates, who made several breakaway attempts near the top, gained six seconds on Valverde, increasing his overall lead to 26 seconds. Nairo Quintana remained third, 33 seconds behind Yates and 10 seconds in front of Lopez.

“It was a very strong attack from Pinot,” Yates said. “He came from behind with a lot of power, a lot of speed…. It was difficult in the last climb. There was zero cooperation [with Quintana and Lopez] so it was difficult to do anything.”

Monday is the second and final rest day of the three-week Grand Tour race that ends next Sunday in Madrid.

The race resumes on Tuesday with a 32-kilometer time trial from Santillana del Mar to Torrelavega in northern Spain.

“I’m looking forward to the rest day and then we’ll move on to the time trial and the rest of it,” Yates said. “The gaps are still very small and the [time trial] could be the key.”

Historically, Covadonga has seen some of the greatest climbers triumph on the mist-enshrouded summit deep in the Asturian mountains, and for many fans, Pinot was a fitting latest addition to that list.

Pinot’s victory is his first stage win in the Vuelta after victories in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, making him the latest rider to claim victories in all three Grand Tours.

“I could take advantage of the way they [the GC contenders] were marking each other so closely, and once I had 15 seconds advantage I knew I could do it,” Pinot, who attacked just before the climb’s hardest segment of La Huesera, said afterwards.

“It was a hard-fought win, one taken a la pedale, but I wanted to get a win in the Giro, Tour and the Vuelta and now I’ve done that.”

It’s a sign of how important the stage win was to Pinot that he said he had no regrets about having lost time earlier in the Vuelta, in an echelon, because as he put it, “without having lost that time, I might not have been given such room for manouvre today.”

“So I have no regrets, everything has worked out as I wanted it to today, I’m taking things very calmly.”

THOMAS SIGNS NEW SKY CONTRACT

TOUR de France champion Geraint Thomas has ended speculation over his future by signing a new three-year contract with Team Sky.

The 32-year-old Thomas, whose previous deal was set to expire at the end of 2018, had been the subject of interest from other teams.

However, the Welshman has decided to stay with the British team and is now contracted through to the 2021 season.

“I’m pleased it’s sorted and delighted to be staying with the team,” Thomas told Team Sky. “It’s working really well for me here and I’m excited about what’s still to come.”

Thomas, who picked up Olympic gold medals in team pursuit in 2008 and 2012, finally triumphed at this year’s Tour de France, having spent much of his career playing a supporting role to the likes of former champions Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Image Credits: AP

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