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Woods, van Garderen finish Vuelta with flourish

GIJON, Spain (VN) — North Americans finished off a hard-fought Anglirú stage with a flourish Saturday.

Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) defended his seventh place while Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) surged into top-10 in the final mountain stage of the 2017 Vuelta a España.

With Sunday’s sprint stage remaining in Madrid, both will conclude the hard-fought Spanish grand tour with top-10s that represent important milestones for both.

Van Garderen, 29, crashed twice throughout the three-week Vuelta, and injured ribs, but battled through rough racing conditions Saturday to climb from 13th to 10th.

“It’s bittersweet,” said van Garderen, who crashed in stages 6 and 11. “That second crash … really affected me. I am happy I have been able to fight through it, but it is a question of ‘what if’.”

With 10th overall, the Vuelta will mark van Garderen’s best grand tour result since he was fifth in 2014 Tour de France.

A winner of his first grand tour stage at the Giro d’Italia in May, van Garderen will line up later this month as a member of the U.S. national cycling team for the Bergen world championships.

Woods, meanwhile, confirmed his grand tour credentials with impressive consistency across three weeks of intense racing.

In just his second grand tour start, Woods came into the Vuelta looking for a stage victory. His steadiness across the first half of the Vuelta, when he was able to stay with riders like Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) on the most challenging stages, including third at Cumbre del Sol in stage 9, prompted him to turn his focus toward the GC.

He dropped to 10th following the Logroño time trial, but dug deep in the final week to claw his way up to seventh.

“I came here with the goal of focusing on a stage win, and having the GC as an afterthought,” Woods said mid-race. “I have never ridden a GC at a grand tour, so I am not sure how I am going to respond … I am cautiously optimistic.”

Woods converted that optimism into reality, and the 30-year-old will ride into Madrid with Canada’s best grand tour result since Ryder Hesjedal was fifth at the 2015 Giro d’Italia.

Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) also finished the Vuelta on a high note, helping to push teammate Contador to victory at the Anglirú. Stetina was a key teammate throughout the Vuelta to help Contador in the Spaniard’s final grand tour.

“It’s been great racing with Alberto in his final race,” Stetina said. “I love his aggressive style of racing.”

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