PENA CABARGA, Spain — Chris Froome won a thrilling uphill duel against climbing rival Nairo Quintana by a bike length to win the 11th stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Wednesday.
Quintana defended his race lead and is now 54 seconds ahead of Froome, who overtook Alejandro Valverde to move second overall.
Valverde finished six seconds behind, dropping to third overall and 1:05 behind Quintana.
Froome, who clinched his third Tour de France title in July, got his first stage win at a major race on this same Pena Cabarga peak in 2011 — the year the British rider finished as the Vuelta runner-up.
Froome and Quintana, who have had some memorable climbing contests on the Tour, tested one another on the category-one ascent, trading attacks before Froome edged the Colombian at the line.
"I have some special memories from 2011 here, but today, to add to that, is just an incredible feeling," Froome said.
Froome pumped his fist in the air after completing the 168.6-kilometre (104.7-mile) ride starting in Colunga near the Atlantic coast in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 47 seconds.
The stage’s dramatic finish promises another two weeks of Quintana and Froome going head-to-head for the title.
Quintana, who has twice finished runner-up at the Tour behind Froome, said he expects to fight a "war" with the Sky leader until the end.
"We arrived together, but (Froome) was faster at the end," Quintana said. "He is strong and we can’t drop our guard. There are many hard stages ahead and they will be a war."
Esteban Chaves trails by 2:34 in fourth place after he faded near the end of the stage’s 5.6-kilometre (3.5.mile) ascent.
Alberto Contador, whose Tinkoff team lead the peloton back to catch an early breakaway of 23 riders, could only manage to cross the line just behind Valverde and Leopold Konig at six seconds behind Froome and Quintana. The three-time Vuelta winner remained in fifth place at 3:06 of Quintana’s pace.
Thursday’s 12th stage is a mountainous 193.2-kilometre (120-mile) route from Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao in the Basque Country.
The race ends in Madrid on Sept. 11