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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta rivals tip their caps to unlikely breakaway artists

Sunday's action-packed ride through the Pyrenees was a "was a beautiful stage for the fans," says Esteban Chaves

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MILAN (VN) — Nairo Quintana’s race leader’s jersey appears that redder Monday after a long-range, 100-kilometer attack that gained him 2:43 minutes on his nearest rival, Sky’s Chris Froome, and newfound respect.

Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) attacked in the first 10 kilometers of the short 118.5-kilometer stage 15 to the Aramón Formigal ski resort. Once free in a group of 14, each with two team-mates, they could not be stopped.

Froome, isolated early after his teammates lost ground, relied on Orica – BikeExchange and Astana to do the early dirty work. Orica’s Chaves and Yates, third and fourth overall when the stage began, also missed the boat.

“Credit to them, they rode a really smart race and they gained a lot of time on us,” Froome told ITV Sport.

Quintana gained 2:43, which he needed given that he faces a normally stronger Froome in the stage 19 time trial coming up Friday.

Froome remains in second overall for the final week, but instead of trailing by 54 seconds, he’s down 3:37.

Chaves still holds third, but is now 3:57 behind. Yates dropped from fourth to fifth overall with Contador gaining time and moving from sixth to fourth.

“Movistar did an incredible job, they are a pretty strong team, just as Sky, Orica or Astana,” Chaves said. “I think today was a beautiful stage for the fans.”

Fans saw Movistar and Tinkoff flex their muscles in Spain’s Pyrenees. Over the three hours, Jonathan Castroviejo and Rubén Fernández turned themselves inside out for Quintana. Ivan Rovny and Yuri Trofimov did the same for Contador.

Once arrived at the final 14.5-kilometer climb to the Aramón Formigal ski resort, Quintana took over and rode a mountain time trial. After a somewhat disappointing Tour de France, the 26-year-old Colombian reminded fans and rivals why many consider him a grand tour star.

“It was some aggressive racing,” Yates said. “[Quintana and Contador] were aggressive. I was not surprised at all that Contador attacked.”

Such shows of aggressive racing do not happen often. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) moved from fourth to first overall in the last two mountain days of the Giro d’Italia this May. In the 2012 Vuelta, Contador surged with 50 kilometers to race on a small second category climb and bridged to an escape group with his teammates. Doing so, he gained 2:38 and the leader’s jersey from Joaquím Rodríguez.

Quintana did not need to take the leader’s jersey Sunday, but he did need more time on his rival Froome before the upcoming time trial.

Contador played a key role and hung on until the final two kilometers, losing 37 seconds to Quintana, but gaining on the others.

“I ended up cramping, but the spectacle was something beautiful,” said the Spaniard. “These are the stages where we can gain new fans.”