Primoz Roglic heads into the final weekend of the Vuelta a Espana with a third successive title within touching distance, while Magnus Cort won stage 19 on Friday.
Danish rider Cort, who also triumphed on stages six and 12, was the quickest man in a breakaway, holding off Rui Oliveira and Quinn Simmons to clinch victory in Monforte de Lemos.
EF Education-Nippo team-mate Lawson Craddock powered out to lead the final sprint and though Simmons attacked with 200 metres to go, it was Cort who caught the slipstream to claim a dramatic win by a bike length at the culmination of a 191.2-kilometre stage.
Cort, who won two stages in the 2016 Vuelta and one in 2020, said: “It’s amazing, it’s a dream now, I really hope I don’t wake up. It was not before the last five or six kilometres that I started believing.
“They always kept us close and it was a really hard day. We didn’t always work perfect together in the front, we had a few attacks that reduced the size of the group.
“I think everybody had tired legs and it was hard to work together in this hilly terrain but somehow we managed to hang onto it.”
Roglic kept his general classification competitors at arm’s length as he retained his grasp on La Roja heading into the last two stages, finishing 18 seconds behind the leaders.
Saturday’s mountain stage could still cause problems, while Roglic has been hurt by time trials in grand tours before – the 2020 Tour de France was settled in Tadej Pogacar’s favour in such a manner – but the Slovenian looks well placed to make it three Vuelta wins in a row.
Roglic’s family were on hand to witness him receive the 50th overall leader jersey of his career, and the Olympic gold medallist knows he is on the verge of a remarkable achievement.
“It’s beautiful to have my family here. They are my life and I’m very happy,” he said.
“It was a hard day from the start to the finish. A super strong break went away. For us, it was fine, and we could take it easy. But La Vuelta is coming to an end so there aren’t much opportunities left.
“The sprinters’ teams pulled with a super hard tempo. It’s crazy [that this is my 50th Grand Tour leader’s jersey]. Hopefully I can keep it.”
1. Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) 04:24:54
2. Rui Oliveira (UAE Team Emirates) same time
3. Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) same time
1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 77:49:37
2. Enric Mas (Movistar) +2:30
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) +2:53
1. Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 250
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 162
3. Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) 144
King of the Mountains
1. Michael Storer (Team DSM) 59
2. Romain Bardet (Team DSM) 54
3. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 48
Saturday’s route is a monster. A 202.2km stage from Sanxenxo to Mos. Castro de Herville takes in five short but difficult climbs after a relatively flat start.