A sense of worry falls over the Vuelta a España with less than half of the race left and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), in the red jersey lead, showing to be the strongest.
Movistar's leaders Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde lost 27 seconds more to Roglič today on the steep climb of Los Machucos and said they will look for another strategy to overthrow the leader.
"We are now seeing that Roglič is the strongest rider, and Pogačar is demonstrating he is also very strong," world champion Valverde said.
"From the way that the group was climbing, I was waiting for Roglič to accelerate, and that's what happened. Once the Slovenians went away, we tried to go at our own rhythm, both Nairo and myself, at the maximum, to try to limit the losses."
Roglič already in red rode clear with 20-year-old Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), also from Slovenia, in the final three kilometres. Pogačar took the stage and Roglič more gains as he tries to win his first Grand Tour.
"What next? We'll see. Today we gave up some time, but maybe the next time we can take back some time," Valverde added. "We have two key stages Sunday and Monday in Asturias."
Quintana attacked at first on the climb but Roglič and the others pulled him back, then Pogačar began the move with Roglič. Roglič now leads with 2-25 minutes over Valverde and 3-01 over Pogačar. Miguel Ángel López (Astana) sits at 3-18 and Quintana 3-33.
"We tried, but Roglič is showing he is the strongest in the race right now," 2016 winner Quintana explained.
"I tried this attack halfway up the climb because I am the one who is further back, and I felt pretty good. It's easier to follow the wheel and see what happens, but I preferred to try, because you don't really know how you are or what kind of chances you have until you do."
Tomorrow to Oviedo suits an escape or a small bunch sprint, then Sunday and Monday, the climbs begin again. Movistar will need to come up with a plan if it is to win its second Grand Tour of the season after Richard Carapaz won the Giro d'Italia on June 2.
"We've see where everyone is, and now we will try another strategy," Quintana added. "We'll see if we can try to attack from further out. There are still some decisive stages ahead of us that are not so easy and are very complicated. We will keep trying."
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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