Great Britain’s Simon Yates saw his La Vuelta lead trimmed on Wednesday’s 17th stage but his chances of overall victory remain good with one mountain stage to go.
Canada’s Michael Woods (Education First-Drapac) won in the mist on Balcon de Bizkaia in the Basque Country, seeing off the challenge of Belgium’s Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing), who finished five seconds behind.
Yates conceded eight seconds to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with the Spaniard now 25 seconds adrift overall with three stages remaining ahead of Sunday’s processional finish in Madrid.
Two flat stages are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, so Yates’ rivals’ best and final hope to wrest the red jersey from the Briton’s shoulders will come in Saturday’s mountainous 20th stage, the 97.3km route from Andorra Escaldes-Engordany to Coll de la Gallina.
As Woods won the stage, accelerating away from Teuns, David de la Cruz (Team Sky) and Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe), the general classification battle was unfolding behind them.
Yates, who gained seven seconds on Valverde on Tuesday’s time trial, lost contact with the 38-year-old on the final ramps of the brutal concluding climb.
Of the red jersey contenders, only Spain’s Enric Mas (QuickStep-Floors) was able to stay with Valverde. Mas was 14th and Valverde 15th on the stage, with Yates 17th.
Holland’s Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the 2016 winner, lost over a minute to Valverde as they finished together in 22nd and 23rd place, respectively.
Mas moved up from fifth to third as a result, one minute 22 seconds behind Yates.
Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) is now fourth, 1min 36secs behind, Kruijswijk fifth, 1:48 adrift, and Quintana 2:11 behind.