Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished in the peloton to safely retain the overall race lead in the 2017 Vuelta a España as Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates) took the victory after attacking from the day’s escape group.
The 22-year-old Slovenian left his breakaway companions behind after the day’s key final classified climb, the Alto del Castillo, within the final 10km.
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Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) came in for second for the second day running, with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) in third.
Froome finished in the main peloton some eight minutes and 38 seconds behind Mohoric. The Briton leads Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) by 11 seconds, with Irishman Nicolas Roche (BMC) in third at 13 seconds.
The longest stage of the 2017 Vuelta was certainly an eventful one. The day started with a crash in the neutralised zone after the depart in Llíria. Once everyone had reassembled, the flag dropped and a 14-rider break formed.
The highest-placed rider on GC in the break was Dutchman Jetse Bol (Manzana Postobón), who started the day eight minutes and 55 seconds adrift of Froome. That meant that the escape was given plenty of leeway – in fact, almost too much at one point as Bol moved into the virtual race lead as their gap increased to over nine minutes.
With a lack of interest from sprint teams, no one squad really looked eager to mount a chase. Team Sky led the bunch for the majority of the stage, with Ian Stannard and Christian Knees putting in trademark mammoth turns on the front.
There was a nasty crash with 90km to go, which saw American road race champion Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport) and Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) both abandon due to their injuries. Kudus’s withdrawal is another blow for Dimension Data, who have already lost three riders from the race due to a stomach illness.
The gap between the break and peloton remained steady into the Alto del Castillo. This steep, rough climb caused the break to split apart with Mohoric looking particularly strong as he distanced Poljanski and Rojas, with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) also subsequently joining the chase.
Further back, escapee Rafael Reis (Caja Rural) was brought down after coming in contact with a race moto on the climb, although it was unclear exactly how the incident happened.
Mohoric tucked into an aerodynamic position on the descent, and pushed out more and more of a gap on the chasers. The 2012 junior and 2013 under-23 road race world champion continued to power on into the finish, and took a memorable solo win – the biggest of his professional career.
Although Froome was not challenged by his main GC rivals on the Alto del Castillo, he needed to keep a check on his time gap over Bol – and he came home at 8-38, retaining the red jersey.
Bol, for his efforts in the break, moved up to seventh overall, moving Fabio Aru (Astana) down to eighth and pushing Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) out of the top 10.
Saturday’s stage is another lumpy stage, taking in 199.5km from Hellín to Xorret de Catí and featuring the category one ascent and descent of Alto Xorret de Catí within the final 10km. This testing final climb features sections of 18 per cent, and will again see the general classification men attempt to gain time – or try and prevent losing it.
Vuelta a España 2017, stage seven: Llíria to Cuenca, 207km
1. Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE team Emirates, in 4-32-35
2. Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe at 16 secs
3. José Joaquin Rojas (Esp) Movistar
4. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at same time
5. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing, at 27 secs
6. Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo, at same time
7. Jetse Bol (Ned) Manzana Postobón, at 29 secs
8. Luis Angel Mate (Esp) Cofidis, at 1-21
9. Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, at 1-32
10. Arnaud Courteille (Fra) FDJ, at same time
18. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, at 8-38
General classification after stage seven
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 27-46-51
2. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 11 secs
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing, at 13 secs
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, at 30 secs
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 36 secs
6. David De La Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 40 secs
7. Jetse Bol (Ned) Manzana Postobón, at 46 secs
8. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, at 49 secs
9. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 50 secs
10. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-13
11. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 1-26