Yates increases Spanish Vuelta lead ahead of final stages

SANT JULIA DE LORIA, Andorra (AP) — Simon Yates moved closer to winning the Spanish Vuelta for the first time after gaining more than a minute on Alejandro Valverde in Friday’s 19th stage, which was won by Thibaut Pinot.

Pinot outlasted Yates at the end of the final climb in the tiny nation of Andorra, crossing the line five seconds ahead of the British rider for his second stage win in this year’s Vuelta. Valverde finished eighth, more than a minute behind.

Yates will take a lead of 1 minute, 38 seconds over Valverde into Saturday’s 97.3-kilometer (60.4-mile) 20th stage, a short but very demanding ride over six categorized climbs. The three-week Grand Tour race ends Sunday in Madrid.

“I haven’t won La Vuelta yet,” Yates said. “I’m very wary of tomorrow. We saw today what can happen in just one day. Of course I enjoyed today, but it’s not over until it’s over.”

Valverde was not giving up yet.

“What’s happened to me today can also happen to him (Yates) tomorrow,” Valverde said. “To win La Vuelta is complicated, for sure. It was complicated this morning, it’s complicated now, but it’s not impossible. We’re going to try. I’m still confident.”

Nairo Quintana had a punctured tire with less than 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to go and dropped more than four minutes off the lead, virtually out of contention.

Pinot had won the challenging 15th stage on Sunday with a dominant charge on the iconic climb into Lagos de Covadonga.

“The first victory, it was already very good,” Pinot said. “And now, two victories, it allows me to hammer it down. It’s a dream Vuelta. I wanted to enjoy myself and I proved I was able to win head to head with the strongest climbers. I had ticked those two stages. Today, the climb was longer and not as steep, it suited my abilities better.”