Vuelta a Espana 2017: Aqua Blue Sport’s Stefan Denifl wins stage 17 as Chris Froome’s lead is cut

Race leader loses time to rivals on brutally steep final Los Machucos climb

Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue Sport) soloed to victory on stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana to claim the Irish UCI ProContinental team’s biggest ever win, on a day which saw red jersey Chris Froome’s lead cut on the brutal Los Machucos climb.

Denifl pressed on up the climb from the day’s breakaway and held off a charge from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) to solo to victory – Aqua Blue Sport’s first in their debut Grand Tour.

Further back, however, Froome paid for his efforts in winning the stage 16 time trial, ceding 40 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) as he was gapped on the fiercely steep Los Machucos gradients.

Stefan Denifl soloed to victory on stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana (Pic: Sirotti)

Denifl was one of six riders in the day’s breakaway, alongside Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floors), Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC Racing), Magnus Cort-Nielsen (Orica-Scott) and Dani Moreno (Movistar).

Bora-hansgrohe, Bahrain-Merida and Astana were among the teams to lead the chase behind, meanwhile, with ambitions of a stage win.

On the penultimate climb, Adam Yates and Johan Esteban Chaves attacked, with several riders jumping off the front with them before Sky brought it back.

The main action was always likely to be reserved for the final climb, however, and so it proved as the fierce gradients bit hard.

Denifl caught Moreno and surged on up the climb on his own, while Contador kicked from the peloton – dancing on the pedals in typical fashion, to defy the steep gradients.

As the peloton split behind him, however, Froome was caught behind a gap that opened up and his team-mates immediately dropped back to support him.

The uneven gradient of the climb gave chance to spin the legs, but every time the road kicked up the pace of the race ground practically to a halt.

The difficulty of the gradients was laid bare when a neutral service bike stalled on the ascent, while a TV moto nearly caused a crash when Diego Rosa, leading Froome, nearly crashed into the back of a slow-moving one.

Froome was visibly struggling, however, as Nibali and Zakarin continued to pull away from the Team Sky man, who had only team-mate Mikel Nieve left for company further down the road.

Chris Froome lost time on the brutal slopes of Los Machucos (Pic: Sirotti)

Up front, Denifl continued to press on, with Contador rapidly shutting the gap down behind him with a superb ride.

The Austrian had enough, however, pushing hard as he got over the top of the steepest part of the climb and surged to victory.

Contador was second, 25 seconds later, gaining time on the four riders ahead of him in the GC as a result, while Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) took third, and the final bonus seconds, ahead of Nibali.

Froome was led in by Nieve some 42 seconds, limiting his losses in the process but also losing most of the minute he had gained the previous day.

He now leads overall by 1’16” from Nibali, with Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) third at 2’13”.

Vuelta a Espana 2017: stage 17 – result

1) Stefan Denifl (AUT) – Aqua Blue Sport – 4.48.52hrs
2) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Trek-Segafredo +28”
3) Miguel Angel Lopez (ESP) – Astana +1.04
4) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida – ST
5) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin
6) Rafal Majka (POL) – Bora-hansgrohe
7) Michael Woods (CAN) – Cannondale-Drapac +1.13
8) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Movistar +1.17
9) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Team Sunweb +1.19
10) David de la Cruz (ESP) – QuickStep Floors +1.42

General classification

1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 67.44.03hrs
2) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida +1.16
3) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Team Sunweb +2.13
4) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +2.25
5) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Trek-Segafredo +3.34
6) Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) – Astana +4.39
7) Michael Woods (CAN) – Cannondale-Drapac +6.33
8) Wout Poels (NED) – Team Sky +6.40
9) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +6.45
10) David de la Cruz (ESP) – QuickStep Floors +10.10

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