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Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) made it two wins in a row after a wild six-climb stage 3 at the five-day Vuelta a Burgos in northern Spain.
Six, third-category climbs spiced up the 175km third stage from Cuatro Villas to a cave hidden away high the Cantabrian range.
The stage was laced with attacks and breakaways, including late-stage surges by Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Ivan Basso (Cannondale), but Keukeleire took advantage of work by FDJ to kick to his second consecutive win.
In a finale similar to Thursday’s uphill drag, Keukeleire pounced clear in the closing meters of a long, 1km kicker to snag the win. Without time bonuses, overnight leader Anthony Roux (FDJ), who crossed the line in second, retained the overall lead.
Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) filtered across the line third and fourth, respectively, with Carlos Barbero (Euskaltel-Euskadi) coming through eighth at a break in the timing at 3 seconds adrift.
The pack fractured on the fast-paced charge up the final climb, with riders coming across in small packs. Some of the GC favorites lost time, including Fabio Duarte (Colombia), who shed 31 seconds, and Basso, who gave up 48 seconds.
The stage featured four third-category climbs before hitting two passages of the Cat. 3 finale climb at Ojo Guareña, site of one of Spain’s most extensive cave networks.
Some early attacks were neutralized when Janez Brajkovic (Astana), back to racing after crashing out of the Tour de France, and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) linked up with two other riders at about 15km.
Their lead hovered around three minutes, with Txurruka and Brajkovic, who will be riding the Vuelta a España to support Vincenzo Nibali later this month, shedding the other two to ride alone toward the first of two passages at Ojo Cuareña.
FDJ, riding to protect Roux, picked up the pace, and reeled in the pair with 12km to go.
More attacks came over the final circuit, with Basso and Jesus Herrada (Movistar) trying in vain to escape. Rubén Plaza (Movistar) countered as soon as they were neutralized by the pack, led by Cofidis and NetApp.
Angel Vicioso (Katusha) and then Quintana also tried to jump in the closing 3km, but the terrain wasn’t steep enough to open promising gaps on the chasing peloton.
FDJ drove it home, hoping to set up Roux for the win, but Keukeleire, the promising young Belgian who signed a contract extensive with Orica only yesterday, proved he’s got the winning legs right now.
“This second win is really special,” said Keukeleire. “I’ve never won two races in one tour before. To do it now, and to finish off the work the boys did, is just amazing. I’m really happy at the moment. I hope I can keep this form until the end of the season.
“Overall, today was harder than yesterday,” Keukeleire continued. “There was a lot more up and down the whole day, and the stage was longer. There were several places where the road narrowed, so it was quite important to stay in good position all day. The team did a great job keeping me in the first half of the peloton all day.”
The 35th Burgos tour continues Saturday with the 162km fourth stage from Doña Santos to Santos Domingo de Silos. The route features one third-category climb early, and two late kickers in a finishing circuit. A downhill run to the finish line should see a chance for strong descenders, such as Sánchez and Nibali, have a shot for the win.