(Reuters) - Chris Froome edged closer to winning the Vuelta a Espana as he increased his overall advantage over Vincenzo Nibali to 61 seconds after surviving another punishing mountain stage on Sunday.
The Briton came fifth in stage 15’s mountain finish in the Sierra Nevada after a triple whammy of climbs, 47 seconds behind Colombian stage winner Miguel Angel Lopez. Froome crossed the line six seconds ahead of Nibali, who finished seventh.
Russian Ilnur Zakarin placed second, 36 seconds behind Lopez, to move up to third in the general classification.
Monday is the second rest day of the race, which continues on Tuesday with the individual time trial, where Froome will be looking to strike another blow in his bid to become the first rider in 39 years to win the Tour de France and La Vuelta in the same season.
The stage, which finished at the Sierra Nevada ski station, featured two first category and one ‘outside category’ climbs in the final 70 kilometres.
The Sierra Nevada is commonly used by riders for altitude training, which added another layer of difficulty to the stage, and Froome had said he had been saving himself in Saturday’s climb up La Pandera for Sunday’s gruelling circuit.
Froome had awful memories of last year’s Vuelta stage 15, when Alberto Contador and eventual winner Nairo Quintana attacked from the starting gun, leaving the Briton isolated from his team and wrecking his bid to win the overall race.
Froome and his Sky team mates were determined not to make the same mistakes again and on Sunday kept check on Nibali’s movements.
Nibali, who did not compete in this year’s Tour de France, waited his turn to attack while Alberto Contador, Romain Bardet and Lopez formed a group ahead of Froome’s bunch.
The Italian finally made his move with 13 km to go and opened up a 20-second gap with Froome’s group but could not keep it up and was soon caught, thus weakening his chances of grabbing the leader’s red jersey from the Briton with six stages to go.
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar