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Defending champion Primoz Roglic extended his Spanish Vuelta lead before the final competitive stage after earning some precious bonus seconds at the finish of Stage 16, which was won by Magnus Cort Nielsen on Friday.

Roglic earned six bonus seconds after finishing second in the hilly stage. That gave him a 45-second advantage over Richard Carapaz heading into Saturday’s decisive mountain test.

Cort Nielsen, of EF Pro-Cycling, won a sprint finish to claim the 162-km (100-mile) ride from Salamanca to Ciudad Rodrigo through the wooded hills of western Spain.

It was the Danish rider’s third career stage win at the Vuelta, and his first in any race since February.

“It has been a difficult year for everyone. It means a lot to me to come back and win,” Cort Nielsen said, referring to the pause in European cycling caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “I had come back well after the break, but I caught the coronavirus and had only been back training hard for three weeks (before the Vuelta).”

Saturday’s stage will take riders 178 km (110 miles) from Sequeros to the beyond-category summit at the top of the Alto de la Covatilla.

The penultimate stage will determine the winner ahead of the ceremonial arrival in Madrid on Sunday.

In September, Roglic was leading the Tour de France by 57 seconds going into the penultimate stage but faltered during the time trial and lost to eventual champion Tadej Pogacar.

Seven weeks later, Roglic has an opportunity to secure a second consecutive Vuelta title in the rugged mountains under the protection of his strong Jumbo-Visma teammates.

“It is a really big day tomorrow, the decisive one,” Roglic said. “We just have to maintain our focus and do our best.”

The pandemic caused the Vuelta to be pushed back from its hot and sunny August-September slot to the cooler October and November. A tight race calendar also forced officials to reduce it to 18 stages from the usual 21.

The race has been run under tight health regulations, including calls by race officials for fans not to attend the race. They have repeated the plea for people to not gather in Madrid for the finale.

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