Alejandro Valverde wins atop Mas de la Costa with Lopez back in Red

Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar) won stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana after another brutal day of racing with a tough mountain top finish

The stage saw a breakway of 10 riders including Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Quentin Jauregui (AG2R La Mondiale), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Storer (Mitchelton-Scott) and Sergio Henao (Team Ineos) build up a lead of over 3 minutes.

Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Sergio Henao UAE Team Emirates) were all that remained in the breakaway as they reach the final brutal climb of Mas de la Costa before they were reeled in by the peloton lead by Astana, Movistar and Jumbo Visma.

Previous race leader Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Merida) was dropped with 26 kms to go and lost several minutes.

Quintana attacked taking with only Roglic, Lopez and Valverde able to follow on the super steeps slopes, up 22% in gradient.

The world champion beat Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) to the steep line, with Miguel Angel Lopez and Nairo Quintana finishing six seconds down on yet another summit finish.

The punishing day of racing ended at Mas de la Costa with Lopez moving back into the leader’s Red jersey with Roglic second overall, at six seconds.

The finale saw Valverde, Quintana, Roglic and Lopez prove that they are the strongest riders in this year’s race, all finishing in the top 4 places.

Miguel Angel Lopez re-took the leader's red jersey, six seconds up on Roglic. Valverde is 16 seconds down, while Quintana is 27 seconds back.

Tomorrow's Stage 8 on Saturday is 168 km from Valls to Igualada and features the  Puerto de Montserrat, towards the end of the stage, will be a key moment when the sprinters’ teams will have to decide whether to control the race and prepare a final sprint or let the breakaway go for the victory.

Alejandro Valverde said after winning the stage: "I'm so, so happy. This season has already been good to me, always up there within the best, but taking a stage like this one in La Vuelta, with such a strong competition - it really makes me happy. I want to thank all of my team-mates for the huge gamble they made on us for the win, and Nairo in particular, because he rode brilliantly over the last climb. He tried to distance Roglic and López with his attacks, but seeing they were able to match him, he set a steady pace so I could go for the victory later on. I was confident, I knew I was doing well, and the worst result I could have got was fourth (laughs). I just tried to keep the moves under control, and I knew I was the fastest of the three, so I remained calm until the end. It's still a long way to go in this Vuelta, but for the time being, it seems like we two, Nairo and myself, are within the top four contenders for the GC win at this specific point."

"Aiming to win this? Of course it would be incredible to take the victory, 10 years after my first one, but I must remain realistic. We've got two stage wins at the moment, one by Nairo and one by myself, we're up there in the GC - we can't really ask for more at this point. What there isn't is a a single problem between us. Nairo said he wants me to be the team leader, but I think he must not rule himself out of contention at all. He's doing really well, and he's talented enough to aim for this victory. At Javalambre on Wednesday, there was some controversy from Colombia about me pulling Roglic, but the thing is, if I didn't have López riding away from us, I wouldn't have ridden that way. I couldn't lose time against him, since he's so dangerous. Roglic has proven to be really strong, too, and he should be the best of us four at the ITT, but anything can happen."

Nairo Quintana also said: "I wanted to push hard into those slopes to pay the team back for their hard work all day, while Alejandro saved energy at the back of the group to try and sprint to the win, just like he did. It was our plan before the stage: I went on the attack to test our rivals' legs and maybe even going solo, while Alejandro tried the move he delivered at the end. When he sees the finish, Alejandro transforms himself. The climb is quite peculiar, with those steep slopes, and considering we're into day seven of the Vuelta, and after two previous, consecutive mountain stages, the wear and tear starts to show and it encourages you to keep trying, seeking for a mistake from your rivals. Alejandro is currently ahead of me in the GC, he's doing better and I stand by what I said earlier this week, but we remain day-by-day, seeing what happens. It's stil a long way home, and together with the team we must continue to do our best."

VIDEO: 2019 La Vuelta Stage 7 Highlights

2019 La Vuelta Stage 7 Top 10

1    Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team    4:34:11
2    Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma    4:34:11
3    Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team    4:34:17
4    Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team    4:34:17
5    Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe    4:34:53
6    Ion Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team    4:34:59
7    Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates    4:35:02
8    Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates    4:35:02
9    George Bennett (NZl) Team Jumbo-Visma    4:35:18
10  Oscar Rodriguez Garaicoechea (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias    4:35:31

2019 La Vuelta GC after Stage 7

1    Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team    28:19:13
2    Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma    0:00:06
3    Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team    0:00:16
4    Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team    0:00:27
5    Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe    0:01:58
6    Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates    0:02:36
7    Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott    0:02:52
8    George Bennett (NZl) Team Jumbo-Visma    0:03:34
9    Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb    0:03:36
10  Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates    0:03:36

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