Quintana holds off Froome, set to win Spanish Vuelta

Nairo Quintana. (Peter Dejong/AP)

ALTO DE AITANA , Spain — Nairo Quintana is poised to win the Spanish Vuelta after protecting his lead over Chris Froome in a grueling penultimate stage in the southern mountains on Saturday.

Barring an accident or incident on the final stage’s traditional arrival in Madrid, the Colombian riding for Movistar will add the Vuelta to the 2014 Giro d’Italia on his Grand Tour list of honours.

Pierre-Roger Latour of France won the 193-kilometre (120-mile) stage traversing three category-two ascents from Benidorm to a special-category finish at the Alto de Aitana summit in over five hours.

Froome reduced Quintana’s lead by more than two minutes by winning Friday’s time trial to move to within 1:21.

But Quintana kept Froome in check throughout Saturday’s ride, responding to his repeated attacks on the final 21-kilometre (13-mile) climb before passing him just before the finish.

"I want to congratulate (Froome). He is a great rival," Quintana said. "He had a great time trial and he made me suffer. Riding against the greats like Froome and Alberto Contador gives this win so much more importance."

Froome clapped as Quintana pulled past him following the last of several one-on-one climbing duels by the stars on the three-week Grand Tour.

The British cyclist tweeted "Chapeau" to Quintana and "I gave it my all" after the stage.

Quintana has twice finished runner-up to Froome at the Tour de France, the last time in July when Froome and his Sky team were dominant.

Quintana thanked his Movistar team and dedicated the win to Jose Rojas, a Movistar rider who crashed midway through the stage and was evacuated in ambulance with a leg injury.

"My team defended all the attacks of the other teams, above all (Froome’s) Sky," Quintana said. "I am grateful to them."

Froome finished 1:23 behind Quintana, while Esteban Chaves moved past Contador into a third-place finish after making up time with a long-distance attack.

Froome, a three-time Tour winner, is set to finish the Vuelta as runner-up for a third time. He finished second in 2011 and 2014.

Latour, who rides for AG2R La Mondiale, edged Darwin Atapuma at the line for his first win at a major race.

The 21st and final stage is a flat 105-kilometre (65-mile) ride from Las Rozas to the Spanish capital.

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