Jens Keukeleire wins his first Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta a España thanks in part to the hard work of teammate Simon Yates in bringing the breakaway back

Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange) took the biggest win of his career, outsprinting the peloton in Bilbao to take stage 12 of the Vuelta a España.

In a rolling stage into the Basque Country, it looked as if IAM Cycling‘s Dries Devenyns would score his team’s second win of the race, with a long-range attack that lasted until the final kilometre.

But Orica-BikeExchange’s Simon Yates, himself a first-time Grand Tour winner on stage six, hauled the Belgian back and set up his teammate Keukeleire to sprint easily for the win.

The day’s all-star breakaway was never allowed to go far up the road, with dangerous riders like Peter Kennaugh, David Lopez (both Team Sky), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step) and Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) in its midst.

The break split on the El Vivero ascent on the finishing circuit, leaving Kennaugh, Brambilla, Meintjes and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) alone at the front. Despite the diminishing numbers, the group continued to hold on to their slim advantage until the 17km to go mark.

As soon as the break was caught, though, Devenyns went off the front of the bunch, opening up a 35 second lead on the route’s final real climb.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) showed his race is far from over, taking the race to his rivals by charging up the second ascent of the El Vivero climb, his trademark dancing style forcing Movistar to work hard to neutralise the threat.

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 12

David Lopez and Peter Kennaugh in the break on stage 12 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) was the next to go up the road to try and catch Devenyns – for Astana the stage win would mean more than for Tinkoff, with Contador slowing his attack once he realised he wasn’t getting away.

A small group of pursuers, including Sanchez and IAM’s Mathais Frank, assembled behind Devenyns, but the Belgian’s advantage stayed at around the 30 second mark.

When that group dissipated, Yates moved from the back of the peloton to the head of affairs in the chase of Devenyns as his advantage heading into the final three kilometres dropped to 15 seconds.

Devenyns was finally gobbled up as he passed under the flamme rouge, setting the race up for a fast finish. Yates led the peloton, but the fast men behind him were revving their engines, including his teammate Keukeleire who opened up a healthy gap to take the win with ease.

The general classification remained unchanged, with Nairo Quintana maintaining a 54 second lead over Chris Froome ahead of Friday’s battle through the Basque Country.

Vuelta a España stage 12, Los Corrales de Buelna – Bilbao (193km)
1. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-BikeExchange, 4-31-43
2. Maxime Bouet (Fra) Etixx-Quick Step
3. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
4. Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data
5. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana
6. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros
7. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
9. Silvain Dilier (Sui) BMC
10. Mathias Frank (Sui) IAM Cycling, all same time

Jens Keukeleire wins stage 12 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

Jens Keukeleire wins stage 12 of the Vuelta a España (Watson)

General classification after stage 12
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar in 42-21-48
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 54 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 1-05
4. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-BikeExchange at 2-34
5. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff at 3-06
6. Leopold König (Cze) Team Sky at 3-09
7. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 3-25
8. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana at 3-34
9. David de la Cruz (Esp) Etixx-QuickStep at 3-45
10. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) BMC Racing at 3-56