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Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 17


The peloton is lined up at the start in Villadiego and just about to tackle the neutralised section. The riders are expected to reach kilometre zero at 12.40 local time for the official start of what promises to be one of the most demanding stages of this Vuelta. There are three climbs on the agenda today, the category 2 Portillo de Lunada, the category 1 Puerto de Alisas and the final, exceedingly steep haul to the finish at Alto de los Machucos. The special category climb is 7.2km in length at an average gradient of 8.7% - but with stretches of 26% at the base. 

Chris Froome's victory in yesterday's time trial saw him effectively double his advantage atop the overall standings. The general classification is as follows ahead of today's stage:

There are two non-starters to report this morning, as Daniel Oss (BMC) and Lennard Kämna (Sunweb) have abandoned the Vuelta overnight. Kämna placed a fine 8th in yesterday's time trial, but the 20-year-old has been complaining of knee pain, and the team's staff took the decision to pull him from the race. "Lennard has started to experience some pain in his right knee and if he continues with these symptoms there is a likelihood that these problems will worsen," said team doctor Mannes Naeff. "After yesterday's time trial he experienced some irritation in the knee so the best decision is for Lennard to take some rest for a fast recovery and to avoid possible long-term symptoms, which could impact on his goals for the remainder of the season and beyond." 

Conditions are dry and (relatively) sunny as the peloton rolls through the neutralised zone, but the finish line is reportedly covered by low cloud. The wet roads on the final ascent will only make those 26% gradients even more treacherous. Shades of the Angliru in 1999 or 2002, perhaps...

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Matej Mohoric (UAE-Team Emirates), meanwhile, is at the rear of the peloton and being treated by the race doctor after falling in the opening kilometres. 

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There may be no categorised climbs in the opening 100 kilometres this afternoon, but these are heavy, rolling roads that are sure to extract a toll as the day draws on. Alaphilippe and Villella caught the leaders on a rather stiff little hill outside Masa, and they are now swooping down the other side.

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The final climb of Alto de los Machucos is a new discovery for the Vuelta a Espana, and - as he did for the Angliru back in the winter of 1999 - Alasdair Fotheringham provides a fine insight into what faces the Vuelta peloton this afternoon. "Like the Angliru, Los Machucos has its origins in cattle herding. It started life as a track for shifting cows from one upland pasture to another. Indeed, the Machucos stage's 'subtitle' of Monumento al Vaca Pasiega means the "Monument to the Pasiega Cow", and there is a metal version of said bovine at the top of the Machucos climb," writes Alasdair. Read the full preview here.

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Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) put in a decent display in yesterday's time trial, where his 3rd place was, remarkably, only his second top 10 finish in an individual time trial since he won the 2014 Tour de France. However, his deficit to Chris Froome now stands at 1:58, and he is running out of road. "What you feel in a time trial is a good indication of where you're at in terms of form," Nibali said after yesterday's stage, "and it's going to be very difficult to beat Froome." Read the full story here.

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The sun is occasionally and very fleetingly poking through the clouds here, but the finish on the Alto de los Machucos is draped in curtains of low cloud, as Sadhbh O'Shea's photograph from the final ascent shows.

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Away from the Vuelta, the big news of the past 24 hours is from the United States. Two years after placing 5th overall at this very race, Andrew Talansky has decided to retire from cycling at the age of 28

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AG2R La Mondiale riders Alexandre Geniez and Nico Denz were sent home from the Vuelta by their team on the rest day after footage emerged showing them holding onto a team car on Sunday's stage. Today's edition of L'Equipe reports that the video was captured by Team Sky, though the team has declined to comment

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Visibility is very low indeed at the top of this climb, and the peloton would be advised to proceed with great caution on the descent.

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The Astana-led peloton reaches the fog at the top of the climb 3:33 down on the break. A number of riders are being jettisoned off the back of the bunch thanks to their pace-making. It's interesting to see Fabio Aru, Miguel Angel Lopez and Alberto Contador move towards the front near the summit.

And at that, a delegation from Team Sky - Froome among them - zip to the front of the peloton just before the summit of the Portillo de Lunada. The visibility is even worse over the other side...

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The low cloud and misted camera lenses make it very difficult to provide entirely reliable information on how this descent is unfolding, but it seems very much as though Vincenzo Nibali has hit the front of the peloton on the way down...

The word reaching us from the finish, meanwhile, is that the rain has stopped and the cloud has lifted slightly.

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The break emerges from the cloud near the base of the descent, and we can confirm that Villella has been distanced. Moreno, De Marchi, Denifl, Alaphilippe and Cort have a lead of 3:20 over the main peloton.

Gianni Moscon (Sky) has taken over at the head of the peloton with Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) on his wheel. Plenty of gaps have formed in the bunch on this descent...

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Bahrain-Merida have been replaced by Orica-Scott at the head of the red jersey group. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) is among the riders who were dropped by the peloton on the descent and now he trails by a minute, but it's unclear if any of the podium contenders missed the bus.

Villella has sat up and is awaiting the arrival of the red jersey group. The Italian picked up 5 points on the Portillo de Lunada, but he seems unlikely to score anything more in the king of the mountains classification today.

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At the finish atop the Alto de los Machucos, meanwhile, the heavens have opened once again and visibility is severely reduced amid the low cloud.

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Astana put their shoulders to the wheel once again at the head of the bunch on the approach to the beginning of the penultimate climb. Miguel Angel Lopez is chasing a hat-trick of Vuelta stage wins this afternoon, and the terrain seems well-suited to his talents.

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Chaves lost 4 minutes in yesterday's time trial to slip to 9th overall at 6:40, and in theory ought to be allowed a degree of freedom. Sky maintain their tempo on the front as some riders attempt to bridge across to Chaves and Adam Yates.

David De La Cruz (Quick-Step), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Antonio Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) have bridged across to Chaves and Adam Yates to swell the group to six riders.

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There are five Sky riders at the head of the red jersey group in pursuit of the Chaves group, which is being led by Adam Yates and has swelled to include an Astana rider.

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It is in fact Jack Haig, and not Simon Yates, who bridged up to Cort for Orica-Scott on this descent. The Orica tandem is dangling just ahead of the peloton.

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Jack Haig distances his teammate Cort as he hauls himself out of the saddle when he reaches the same point, 36 seconds down on the leaders. The peloton is at 1:23.

There are around 50 riders in this red jersey group as they begin the final climb, but plenty of riders are beginning to sit up as soon as the gradient starts to bite. 

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Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attacks from the red jersey group on gradients in excess of 15% and comes past Pantano. He makes it all look so disarmingly easy.

Contador is next to attack and he bobs his way across to Lopez. This duo has about 30 metres in hand on the red jersey group.

Nibali, Kelderman, Michael Woods and Zakarin are in a group chasing Lopez and Contador. Froome is not among them.. He is another 40 metres back in a group with four Sky teammates...

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The gradient kicks up to 16% and every man has to ride to his own tempo. Contador kicks away from Lopez and opens a small gap, but the Colombian has not relented.

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Contador has distanced Alaphilippe and Haig, and is in second place on the road in lone pursuit of Denifl. The gap is 47 seconds.

Gianni Moscon leads the Froome group, 1:40 down on Denifl. They are a minute down on Contador and at least 20 seconds behind Nibali, Kelderman and Zakarin.

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Now Froome has only Mikel Nieve for company... Zakarin has clawed his way up to Nibali.  They are in the process of clawing back significant ground on a struggling Froome...

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Froome's eyes are glued to his stem, but his battery seems flat. He is struggling to follow Mikel Nieve's wheel. He is 1:38 down on Denifl and 1:00 behind Contador. We have no time gap for his deficit to Nibali, Zakarin, Lopez and Michael Woods, but it would seem to be approaching a minute.

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Zakarin accelerates and his surge is helping to drag Nibali further away from Chris Froome. The race for the red jersey has been ignited this afternoon...

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Zakarin leads Nibali into the final kilometre about a minute  down on Denfil. Froome is still being led by Nieve and picking off dropped riders...

Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue) wins stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana.

Contador takes second place, 28 seconds down... 

Miguel Angel Lopez beats Nibali, Zakarin and Majka to third on the stage, 1:07 down on Denifl. They had 40 seconds in hand on Froome at the flamme rouge. What's the final verdict?

Froome struggles to follow Nieve again in the final kilometre. He crosses the line 1:46 down on Denifl. He has conceded 39 seconds on Nibali this afternoon...

Riders were battling in ones, twos and threes all the way up that climb, and there simply weren't enough television motorbikes to keep tabs on all of the GC men. The flash news story is that Nibali has made inroads into Froome's lead, and Contador has also clawed back a minute or so. 

General classification after stage 17:

General classification after stage 17:        

With the cavernous Angliru still to come on Saturday, Nibali will have seen enough this afternoon to feel that he might yet bend this Vuelta to his will.

For Stefan Denifl, this is the biggest victory of a career that began in 2006. "I was waiting the whole Vuelta for this day. I paced myself the whole Vuelta, and today I went all in. It’s just amazing. For me team, Aqua Blue we’re at our first Vuelta here, and winning a stage …I’m over the moon. Thanks. Thanks. You always have to believe to win, and when I felt my legs I was like, ‘Oh my God. These legs are super good.’ And I just kept on pushing. The climb was perfect for me with some flats parts in between for recovery. Now I won a stage in the Vuelta. It’s the best day in my cycling life."

Was Froome's time loss the result of a simple jour sans or an indication of a deeper malaise as the Vuelta reaches its third week? His immediate post-stage reaction was to put a positive slant on a disappointing day. "It's still a great position to be in," he says. "It was reallly tough final, especially with the weather condition. With three days of racing, I’m feeling good. It was a typical Vuelta summit finish, and the same for everyone. I don’t think anybody enjoys gradients over 25 percent. It's never nice to lose to time, but I’m confident we can get the job done."

Thanks for following our live coverage on Cyclingnews this afternoon. You can find a full report, results and pictures here from a dramatic day of racing the Vuelta a Espana. We'll be back with more tomorrow, and in the meantime Alasdair Fotheringham and Sadhbh O'Shea will have all the news and reaction from a misty Alto de los Machucos.

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