Vine closer to Vuelta mountain coronation

·3-min read

Australian Jay Vine has strengthened his grip at the top of the standings as he climbs closer to becoming the King of the Mountains at the Vuelta a Espana.

The Queenslander, who's continuing to thrive in his breakthrough Grand Tour, more than doubled his lead in the battle to find the race's top climber on Sunday's brutal 'queen' stage in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

On a day when the top contenders again put pressure on race leader Remco Evenepoel by nibbling into his overall lead, Team DSM's exciting young Dutch rider Thymen Arensman showed his star quality with an emphatic win on the 15th stage.

But Vine, who's already won two mountain-top stages, was in the thick of the enthralling action on the demanding 152.6km ride from Martos, winning an intermediate sprint atop the category one Alto del Purche climb before going on to finish fourth on the stage.

The man from Townsville has increased his lead in the KoM standings from 14 to 29 points over Ineos Grenadiers' Olympic champion Richard Carapaz going into the final week's action.

Vine also led a concerted three-man pursuit of the brilliant 22-year-old Arensman, who flew to his maiden Grand Tour victory, eventually finishing one minute 23 seconds clear of Enric Mas, 1:25 ahead of Miguel Angel Lopez and 1:30 in front of the Australian.

On a battling day from the Aussie contingent, Ben O'Connor came home sixth at 1:44 down, with Giro champion Jai Hindley grabbing eighth position at 1:55 amid a host of exhausted riders littering the slopes of Sierra Nevada.

O'Connor came home alongside Jumbo-Visma's reigning champion Primoz Roglic, who clawed another 15 seconds back on Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's 10th-placed Evenepoel with another late burst over the last couple of kilometres to the finish.

So for a second consecutive day, the Belgian leader has lost time at the top of the GC, and his overall lead is now down to a still healthy 1:34 over three-time champ Roglic and to 2:01 over Movistar's Mas.

AG2R Citroen's O'Connor is in ninth place overall, 8:57 down, while BORA-hansgrohe's Hindley has moved into the top 10 for the first time at 11:36.

"When I was alone... I only kept thinking that I got to push and it was enough. It's unbelievable," said Arensman, who hunted down Spaniard Marc Soler and sped past on the final climb.

Evenepoel, who reckoned he was still feeling stiff from his crash on Thursday, seemed happy with his lot, going into Monday's rest day having limited the possible damage from Roglic.

"It's actually my first time finishing so high, so I think I did quite well," he said.

"I felt a bit stiff from the crash, but it's getting better every day. So, I'm really happy that it's a rest day tomorrow and I actually lost almost nothing.

"A good day for us. With the crash it was not so easy to handle, but the third week is a bit of another story. The climbs are not super super hard anymore."

The race will resume again on Tuesday's stage 16, a 189km ride from Sanlucar de Barrameda to Tomares.