epa07804876 Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde of Movistar team reacts after winning the seventh stage of the Spanish cycling Vuelta in Onda, Castellon, Spain, 30 August 2019. The seventh stage is a 183.2 km route from Onda to Mas de la Costa in Castellon province. EPA/JAVIER LIZON

MAS DE LA COSTA, Spain – World champion Alejandro Valverde finished strongest on an unforgiving summit finish to win stage seven of the Vuelta a Espana on Friday, while Miguel Angel Lopez reclaimed the leader’s red jersey after coming third.

Valverde, 39, launched a late attack on the last of five classified climbs from Onda to Mas de la Costa, and fought off competition from Colombian pairing Nairo Quintana and Lopez, before pipping Slovenian Primoz Roglic to the finish line.

Roglic’s strong showing enabled him to climb into second in the general classification, six seconds behind Lopez.

Valverde moved into third overall, 16 seconds behind Lopez, thanks to the 10 bonus seconds he earned from this stage victory.

The terrain was much harder than Thursday’s hilly stage but less eventful, and there were no high-profile crashes like the previous day, when Nicolas Roche and Rigoberto Uran were forced to abandon the race.

The Alto Mas de la Costa’s reputation is such that the words “Hell begins here” were spray painted on to the foot of the mountain in 2016, and only seven riders managed to finish the race within a minute of Valverde.