Vuelta battle heats up

Team Movistar's Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde races to the finish-line of the 17th stage of the 73rd edition of "La Vuelta" Tour of Spain cycling race, a 157 km hilly route from Getxo to 'Balcon de Bizkaia' (Biscay's Balcony) landmark in Oiz mount, near Mendata, Wednesday. — AFP

MENDATA, Spain — Simon Yates' slender lead in the Vuelta a Espana was cut from 33 to 25 seconds after the Briton lost ground to Spaniard Alejandro Valverde in Wednesday's mountain stage, which was won by Canadian rider Michael Woods.

Woods snatched a first grand tour victory by edging ahead of Belgian Dylan Teuns in thick mist 400 metres from the summit finish of the Balcon de Bizkaia mountain at the end of the 157km stage from Getxo. He outlasted a breakaway also containing Team Sky's David de la Cruz and Rafal Majka.

Teuns finished five seconds behind Woods while Spaniard De La Cruz finished third, 10 back.

Woods said he was more determined to win after he and his wife lost their son to a stillbirth.

"My wife had a stillbirth two months ago. We lost the little guy, his name was Hunter. The whole time I was going up the climb I was thinking of him I wanted to win so bad for him and I did," Woods told reporters.

Yates, bidding to become the second consecutive Briton to win the Vuelta after Chris Froome's victory last year, finished two minutes 48 seconds behind Woods in 17th place, third fastest of the general classification hopefuls, losing eight seconds to Spaniards Valverde and Enric Mas.

"Of course, I would have liked not to have lost time, but those two guys in front of me were very strong there in the final," said Yates, who wore the pink jersey for most of the Giro d'Italia this year but faded in the final week.

"I did a good ride and I'm happy with what I did. Adam (twin brother and Mitchelton-Scott team mate) was there with me for the entire climb, he did a really good job. Today was the day I was most worried about, so I'm happy to have it over with."

Nairo Quintana's hopes of a repeat of his 2016 Vuelta victory faded further as the Colombian finished three minutes 44 seconds behind Woods, sliding down to sixth place overall, two minutes 11 seconds off Yates.

His attention for the remainder of the Vuelta has turned to supporting team mate Valverde's bid to repeat his 2009 triumph.

"I just didn't have any strength, I lost time today, but the important thing is Alejandro is still there," Quintana said.

Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk had climbed into third the day before following a successful time trial but he fell back to fifth place after a disappointing performance in the mountains, with Spaniard Mas taking his spot in third, one minute 22 seconds behind Yates.

Thursday sees the final flat stage of the Vuelta, a 186.1km route from Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida before two final summit finishes in the Pyrenees mountains, which will almost certainly determine the winner of the race, which culminates with Sunday's procession through Madrid. — Reuters