FARO DE ESTACA DE BARES. MANON, Spain (Reuters) - Spanish rider Jesus Herrada became the overall leader of the Vuelta a Espana on Thursday while Frenchman Alexandre Geniez won stage 12 with a nail-biting sprint at the finish line to pip Team Sky’s Dylan van Baarle to victory.
Cofidis rider Herrada, 28, took the red jersey from Briton Simon Yates after joining a second breakaway group which finished two minutes 32 seconds behind Geniez and over nine minutes ahead of Yates and the other general classification hopefuls.
Yates’s Mitchelton-Scott team and Quintana and Valverde’s Movistar had bickered after stage 11 when Thibaut Pinot broke away and threatened to take the leader’s jersey before his lead over the peloton was trimmed by Movistar and neither team looked willing to chase down all-rounder Herrada when he set off.
At one point the Spaniard had a 10-minute gap over the peloton until Yates’s team picked up the pace with 40km remaining while saving energy for the three consecutive summit finishes from Friday until Sunday.
“We decided not to really chase anyone today, we were just going to ride to keep it at a decent gap and that’s what we did. Now we don’t have to control anything before the weekend, it’s a really important part of the race,” Yates told reporters.
“We’re looking forward to the race starting for real, which is tomorrow. I am feeling good so now I’ve just got to try and recover.”
Herrada holds a significant lead of three minutes 32 seconds over Yates, who slipped to second place, while Spaniard Alejandro Valverde is third, a further second behind, and Nairo Quintana dropped to fourth.
“Wearing the red jersey is a huge achievement for me, perhaps I’ll end up losing it on Friday but right now is the time to enjoy it because this is a dream,” Herrada said.
“I have been trying to get myself in a breakaway like this for a very long time. In the end I couldn’t fight for the stage victory as I was too dead.”
Geniez edged ahead in the final few metres of the 180.1km flat stage from Mondonedo to Faro de Estaca de Bares. Manon to beat Van Baarle by half a wheel and grab a third victory at the Vuelta after winning stages in 2013 and 2016.
There was further pain for Dutchman Van Baarle, who looked visibly disappointed at narrowly missing out on the stage win and crashed into a race official shortly after crossing the finish line.
The Vuelta moves back into the mountains in Friday’s stage 13, a 174.8km ride from Candas Carreno to Valle de Sabero. La Camperona, the first of three summit finishes before Monday’s rest day.
Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond