Wallays wins stage, Yates leads Vuelta before decisive tests

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              Mitchelton-Scott's Team Simon Yates of Great Britain, red shirt leader, is congratulated by La Vuelta staff member Oscar Pereiro at the end of the 17th stage between Getxo and Balcon de Vizcaya, 157 kilometers (97,55miles), of the Spanish Vuelta cycling race that finishes in Balcon de Vizcaya, northern Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
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LLEIDA, Spain (AP) — Jelle Wallays won the Spanish Vuelta’s flat 18th stage on Thursday, while Simon Yates held on to the overall lead ahead of two decisive days in the Pyrenees.

Wallays produced a long breakaway attack before edging out Sven Erik Bystrom and world champion Peter Sagan to win the 186-kilometer (116-mile) leg from Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida in just under four hours.

The Belgian rider said the victory made up for not being selected by his Lotto Soudal team for the Tour de France in July.

“I worked very hard to be selected for the Tour de France,” the 29-year-old Wallays said. “I didn’t go there and then I worked for a stage win at La Vuelta and I got it. It’s fantastic.”

Yates, who rides for Mitchelton-Scott, kept the red jersey for a fifth consecutive day, and eighth day in total.

He leads former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde by 25 seconds, with Enric Mas third at 1:22. Miguel Angel Lopez is fourth at 1:36, Steven Kruijswijk is fifth at 1:48 while Nairo Quintana is sixth at 2:11.

Yates called the uneventful stage, which came a day after he lost time to Valverde in a grueling mountain test, “the easiest so far.”

He also said he would feel at home when the race has its last two key stages on the slopes of the tiny nation of Andorra in the Pyrenees.

“I’ve been living in Andorra for most of my professional career, since 2015,” said the British rider. “I know the climbs very well. I think the two coming stages are going to be very difficult. I’m just trying to do my own race, I think I can win.”

Friday’s 154-kilometer stage starting in Lleida is flat until an uphill finish. That will be followed by Saturday’s short, but demanding, ride over six categorized climbs.

The Grand Tour will finish on Sunday with its traditional arrival into Madrid where riders honor the custom of not challenging the leader.