(Reuters) -Denmark’s Mads Pedersen dominated a bunch sprint to win stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana in style on Friday — his third victory at this year’s race.
Overall race leader Remco Evenepoel of Belgium finished safely in the peloton to maintain his two minutes seven seconds advantage over Spaniard Enric Mas with two days remaining.
Former world champion Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) already held a huge lead in the points category and showed his finishing prowess again to win by a bike length at the end of the 138km stage that started and finished in Talavera de la Reina.
The stage featured two ascents of the category two Puerto del Pielago but was not tough enough to have an impact on the battle for the red jersey, and predictably finished with a bunch sprint through the town.
Miles Scottson (Groupama-FDJ) was the first to make his move but Pedersen, set up perfectly by team mate Julien Bernard, roared around the final corner and hit the front with 150 metres remaining and never looked like being beaten.
Briton Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) finished strongly for second place with Belgian Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck) third.
Pedersen has 379 points ahead of Wright’s 174 and will take the green jersey barring anything untoward over the weekend.
“It’s never easy in a final like this because it’s a lot of good guys in the peloton and if one of them comes with an attack on one of the roundabouts I would be the guy to close it and then it would be hard to sprint, so I was really happy with the speed the boys could keep,” Pedersen said.
“Three wins is way more than we came here for, so that’s super, super nice. Tomorrow we just have to finish the day and then in (Sunday’s finale in) Madrid we have to see how it goes. No matter what, we can be happy with these three weeks in Spain.”
Olympic champion Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) bolstered his lead in the climber’s category with victory on the day’s second climb.
Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) looks unshakeable in the overall standings, although Saturday’s stage features three first category climbs and will offer Mas a final opportunity to try and close the deficit.
Earlier in the day, Slovenian Primoz Roglic, whose hopes of a fourth successive Vuelta triumph were wrecked by a crash near the end of stage 16, issued a statement blaming Wright.
“The crash was not caused by a bad road or a lack of safety but by a rider’s behaviour,” Roglic, who was forced to abandon the race, said.
“I don’t have eyes on my back. Otherwise, I would have run wide. Wright came from behind and rode the handlebars out of my hands before I knew it.”
Several pundits agreed with Wright’s description of the crash as a “racing incident”.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)