Kruijswijk digs deep on Lagos de Covadonga

The mist-draped Lagos de Covadonga was the final duelling ground for the general classification riders in the second week of the Vuelta a España on stage 15 on Sunday.

As the riders sought to take seconds from each other, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) dug deep to hold onto the group of favourites and cement his fifth place in the standings ahead of the second rest day on Monday.

Kruijswijk yo-yoed off the back of the bunch on the steeper sections of the 11-kilometre climb, but ground out his own tempo and was able to bridge back to the overall contenders.

He gave away six seconds to race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) – two on the road and four in bonus seconds – but came across the line with Movistar's Alejandro Valverde and even gained time on the Spaniard's teammate, Nairo Quintana.

With a week to go, and a time trial to come, Kruijswijk's deficit to Yates is just 1:29.

"I'm now in a good position," Kruijswijk said of his race. "It was full-gas from the bottom of the climb, and I tried to keep my own pace, and in the end I was able to come back to Quintana.

"I think I hung on well, but it was hard. I guess it was the same for everybody. I think I coped well with the changes of accelerations, and that's why I stayed a little behind because every time I closed the gap, Yates went again.

"I guess he did it so that Valverde and I couldn't come back. I just rode my own pace and I was able to come back, but I had to give it everything. I guess the rest are not too far away, so it was a good day.

"On the downhill stretch, we didn't see anything because of the mist. There was a turn to the left, which you came to at 60kph. I guess I looked half cross-eyed, but I was lucky to follow the guys to the finish."

As Kruijswijk concentrated on the general classification battle, his teammate George Bennett looked to try to make something out of a difficult weekend by getting into the break.

Bennett had been looking good in the GC, but suffered bad days on the summit finishes of La Camperona and Les Praeres, dropping him outside the top-10 with a 10-minute gap to the overall lead.  

The pragmatic Bennett looked to do something different rather than "sulk" about his missed opportunities. There were some strong riders in the 12-man breakaway, including his teammate Danny van Poppel, who spent most of the day dragging it along, but they were eventually shut down on the final climb. 

"It's obviously different to what I had planned, but there are still a lot of opportunities and I'm still going to enjoy it," said Bennett.

"You have to change the mindset, and I don't want to sulk and ride around at the back of the peloton because things didn't go my way.

"Today, I was OK, but we didn't have enough horsepower in the breakaway, and even if we did, I don't know if we would have had a chance. They really rode hard today."

With Kruijswijk surviving the brutal tryptic of summit finishes, Bennett is now looking forward to the opportunity to help out his teammate. 

"That was the big part of the goal today," Bennett explained. "I've spent a large part of my career riding for people, and I quite enjoy it, and I think Stevie needs me more than anything. I don't know how much freedom I'll have myself, but I'm really happy to work for Stevie." 

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