Nairo Quintana of Movistar is set to become the second Colombian rider to ever win the Vuelta a España tomorrow in Madrid as he emphatically defended his overall position against Sky's Chris Froome up the race's final ascent, the Alto de Aitana. The two remained together all day long until the final meters, though the last 6km saw Froome try everything he could to unstick himself from the Boyaca Wonder, launching one acceleration after another. But the attacks were as effective as they were surprising -- which is to say, not at all -- as Quintana continued to display the climbing brilliance that has effectively won him this race. Only in the final meters did the rivals separate, as Quintana came around Froome to punctuate his win, with the treble Tour winner rolling home applauding his young adversary's accomplishment.
The stage battle was as heated and dramatic as any of the Vuelta, with AG2R's Pierre LaTour making a name for himself -- one we might be hearing a lot -- with his first grand tour stage victory in a grueling battle with BMC's Darwin Atapuma. The two overcame Astana's Luis Leon Sanchez, who had been alone in front for much of the climb, and held off Trek's Fabio Felline, who threatened them with his sprinting ability and needed to be dispatched. Then with 1km to go the pair staged a fantastic show, with LaTour going first, then Atapuma seemingly cracking the Frenchman with 600 meters to go, only for LaTour to reconnect with Atapuma and come past him in the final 200 meters for the victory. The 22 year old will certainly give French fans one more rider to get excited about in the grand tours with his performance here.
Atapuma's second place was the only cloud in the skies of Colombian cycling on this otherwise sunny day, with perhaps the biggest story coming from Orica-Bike Exchange's Esteban Chaves shoving Tinkoff's Alberto Contador off the GC podium with a long-range attack from the race's penultimate climb to take back the 1.11 deficit Contador had opened up on Chaves as a result of Friday's time trial. Chaves got a solid gap over the top, extended it on the descent to the final climb, and hammered it home all the way to the line. Contador appeared helpless to stop it, at first taking the chase up on his own, then regaining a teammate, Yuri Trofimov, from the breakaway, only to see the gap stabilize at the two minute mark. Contador closed the gap by 38 seconds but will nonetheless concede the podium spot in Madrid by a mere 13 seconds.
With remarkable political news unfolding at home, Quintana's win and Chaves' exploits will have Colombians smiling brightly. Quintana's overall victory adds him to the Honor Roll of the Vuelta a España along with his countryman Luis Herrera, winner in 1987. With his second Grand Tour win, he becomes his country's most successful stage racer ever. But perhaps most importantly, Quintana gains a marker that can give him confidence in his pursuit of the final, brightest jewel for his crown the Tour de France. Five years younger than Froome, Quintana stands a good chance of getting a Tour win eventually, but by beating Froome head-to-head for the first time in a victorious grand tour campaign, Quintana gains confidence that such a result is at least possible. Froome, for his part, never seemed at his best, which is to be expected after winning the Tour and immediately heading to Brazil to contest the Olympic events, while Quintana stayed at home.
For Froome, he is set to finish second in Spain for the third time in his career. That fact might sound troubling if not for his three Tour de France titles, but he knows that his primary rival for the foreseeable future is gaining in experience and strength. Froome, though, remained a classy competitor, cheering Quintana's effort respectfully as if he was excited to no longer stand alone at the top of the sport. The 2017 Tour de France is already underway.
Oh, and if that isn't enough, two jerseys changed hands today. Omar Fraile took over the KOM jersey from Kenny Elissonde in a feisty two-man battle raged across several stages. And Felline's remarkable finish in third on the stage vaulted him into the points jersey, with only a sprint stage remaining. Both of those results are likely to stand, with no climbs left and Felline likely to contest the sprint. Quintana sealed his win of the white Combined jersey that Froome has been wearing all week, by default, as well as the red one that he's been wearing, of course.