Nairo Quintana effectively clinched his first Tour of Spain title after holding off a series of Chris Froome attacks in Saturday’s decisive mountain stage.
The Colombian has not officially won the race yet but takes a one minute 23 second lead into Sunday’s processional final stage to Madrid with only an accident or some other calamity standing in his way of victory.
Tour de France champion Froome had taken a huge chunk out of Quintana’s lead in Friday’s time trial and knew his last chance was to launch a devastating attack in the final climbs.
Froome duly obliged, repeatedly trying to surge away from Movistar’s Quintana and reduce the one minute 21 seconds gap on the Alto Aitana climb, but he could not break his rival and ended up no closer.
“I had no problem following Froome. He started to attack very early. That’s expected, and we were very attentive,” Quintana said.
“The team was always very concentrated and we could keep everything under control all the time. Finally, on the climb I felt very good and I had no trouble countering Froome’s surges.”
Quintana even had the strength to accelerate away from Froome at the finish to claim 10th spot – his Team Sky rival sportingly applauding the Colombian.
Froome, who was attempting to become the first man to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season since Bernard Hinault in 1978, will have to settle for second spot.
In a lively 193.2km trek from the beach resort of Benidorm, Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) slipped ahead of Alberto Contador to reclaim third place overall.
France’s Pierre-Roger Latour won the stage in a time of five hours 19 minutes 41 seconds.