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CANGAS, Spain, Sept 12, 2014 – Australian Adam Hansen timed his attack to perfection to win the 180.5km 19th stage of the Vuelta a Espana from Salvaterra do Mino to Cangas do Morrazo on Friday.
The 33-year-old Lotto-Belisol rider took off with just over 4km remaining and held off a charging peloton to win by 5sec to German John Degenkolb and Italy’s Filippo Pozzato.
Spain’s Alberto Contador maintained his race lead of 1min 19sec over last year’s Tour de France winner Chris Froome as both came home safely in the reduced pack.
Asked if he was surprised at his victory, Hansen was in a light-hearted mood.
“I’m real insulted,” he joked. “It’s OK, it was a very tough stage and it was a big surprise that’s for sure.
“I wanted to do something and for sure all the sprinters were annihilated which was good for me.
“I thought at the very end I could do something. I went for it and although I didn’t get too far in front I held on, so surprise, surprise.
“I’ve won a Giro stage, now a Vuelta stage, it’s coming together and I’m very happy.”
Contador admitted he was inching ever closer to a third Vuelta triumph with just two stages remaining.
Behind Froome, another former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde is at 1min 32sec with Joaquim Rodriguez at 2:29 and Fabio Aru 3:15 back.
Saturday’s penultimate stage is the main danger for Contador with four categorised climbs over the 185.7km run from Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil to Puerto de Ancares, including the 12.7km hors category finish with an average gradient of 8.7 percent and one part reaching 18 percent.
“If you had said to me (before the race) that I would be here at this stage I wouldn’t have believed it,” said the 31-year-old Spaniard, who broke his tibia in a crash during the Tour de France just under two months ago.
“We have a very hard stage in front of us with a rival (Froome) that is really strong and with a really strong team in Sky.
“We’ll see how the legs recover for tomorrow and get ready for the final push.”
The stage was animated by a three-man breakaway but although Wout Poels, Pim Ligthart and Laurent Mangel spent around 140km in the lead, they were never allowed a lead of more than 3min 30sec.
They were reeled in with just over 20km remaining as Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team upped the pace to guard against any attacks, such as Froome managed the previous day as he snatched back 20sec including time bonuses.
As the pack hit the final difficulty of the stage, a 4.7km long second category climb, Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko attacked as the favourites kept a close eye on each other.
Froome’s Sky team pushed the pace but more in an effort to control the field than to break it up.
Lutsenko was never allowed more than 10sec over the peloton and as he crested the Alto Monte Faro, he still had more than 15km to ride and little hope of holding on.
Yet on a fast downhill towards the finish, the Kazakh managed to extend his lead to 14sec with 10km remaining, although the Giant-Shimano team of sprint competition leader Degenkolb was now leading the chase.
However, it was a dangerous descent as Sky’s Cario Cataldo found out to his cost as he crashed badly, almost taking down Contador but perhaps more importantly jeopardising his chances of helping Froome on Saturday.
“I don’t know how I managed to adjust the bike three or four times to avoid the crash,” said a relieved Contador.
Lutsenko persisted but within another 5km he had been swallowed up.
Hansen was next to try his luck on a slight incline and this time he made it stick to earn his second Grand Tour victory following a Giro success last year.