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POLAND'S Przemyslaw Niemiec won the 15th stage of the Tour of Spain as Alberto Contador moved further ahead of Britain's Chris Froome at the end of a gruelling final ascent.
Spaniard Contador, who retained the overall leader's red jersey, battled against the negative tactics of Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez to finish a few seconds behind his two compatriots.
The Tinkoff-Saxo rider attacked time and again in the final climb a 12.2-km ascent at an average gradient of 7.2 per cent to Lagos De Covadonga.
But Rodriguez and Valverde refused to cooperate to get rid of Froome, who was struggling a few metres behind.
The Briton limited the damage and still lies third overall, 1:20 behind Contador after losing seven seconds to the Spaniard at the end of yesterday's 152.2-km ride.
Frenchman Warren Barguil was the first to shake off a small group of favourites in the final climb but it was Contador who went hard in the final six kilometres.
Froome, who was yo-yoing at the back, appeared to crack several times but always managed to fight his way back, never losing sight of Contador.
The double Tour de France champion, looking to win the Vuelta for the third time, was outsprinted by Valverde and Rodriguez in the finale as the Movistar and Katusha riders snatched six and four seconds of time bonuses respectively.
Niemiec, of the Lampre-Merida team, was the sole survivor of the day's breakaway and held off the trio of rivals to win the stage, crossing the line five seconds ahead of Valverde and Rodriguez.
Today's 16th stage classed as the queen stage, a 160.5km trek to La Farrapona, features four categorised climbs.