CHRIS Froome retained his advantage on stage 19 of La Vuelta as Belgian Thomas De Gendt won a sprint finish out of the breakaway to keep Spaniards waiting for a stage victory in their home race.

Team Sky’s Froome, bidding to become the first man to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season since 1978, remains one minute and 37 seconds clear of Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali after the pair crossed the line within the main pack at the end of the 149.7km stage from Parque Natural de Redes to Gijon.

While the breakaway was contesting stage honours up ahead, three-time Vuelta winner Alberto Contador had attacked out of the pack of main favourites on the final climb, the Alto de San Martin de Huerces, in a bid to improve his podium chances in his final professional race.

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The Spaniard, who sits fifth, three minutes and 34 seconds down and 77 seconds off the podium places, crested the climb one minute ahead of the other contenders but despite picking up the help of Trek-Segafredo team-mate Edward Theuns, he was caught by the peloton on the streets of Gijon.

The battle for red will now be decided on Saturday, when the peloton face a 117.5km stage from Corvero de Asturias which will conclude on the brutal climb to the finish at Alto de l’Angliru, where Bradley Wiggins surrendered the race lead in 2011.

“It was about trying to save as much energy as possible for Saturday and get through the day without many issues, so I’m happy to get the day behind us and focus on stage 20,” said Froome.