Team Sky’s Nicolas Roche managed to out-sprint fellow breakaway survivor Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) to take victory on Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana.
The duo rode away from the 25-strong breakaway on the day’s main climb and held off the field of general classification contenders on the tricky 10km descent to the finish line.
In the GC battle punches were thrown but none landed, as race leader Tom Dumoulin methodically pegged back numerous attacks from Fabio Aru, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde to maintain his three-second hold on the red jersey.
1. Nicholas Roche (Team Sky)
2. Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) +0
3. Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural–Seguros RGA) +0.18
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0.38
5. Esteban Chaves (Orica–GreenEDGE) +0.38
1. Tom Dumoulin (Giant–Alpecin)
2. Fabio Aru of (Astana) +0:03
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:15
4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff–Saxo) +2:22
5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2:53
6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3:15
7. Esteban Chaves (Orica–GreenEDGE) +3:30
8. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +3:46
9. Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) +4:10
10. Louis Meintjes (MTN–Qhubeka) +6:51
The race for the Vuelta a Espana continues from Roa to Riaza, with Stage 18 featuring a madcap descent to the finish line and all the ingredients for a boil over. Join us on The Roar from 12 midnight for live updates and commentary.
It will come as cold comfort that today’s stage is classified by the race organisers only as ‘hilly’.
This bumpy, 204-kilometre stage, one of the longest of the race, will wear on the peloton’s tired legs but could well reward a rider who is willing to lay everything on the line.
The stage beings out of Roa on a general upward slope before it reaches the first of a pair of third category climbs at the 80 and 100 kilometre marks.
From there flat roads are left behind in exchange for 80km of over 10 short but leg-burning non-categorised climbs and descents to the foot of today’s main climb up the Puerto de la Quesera.
The first category climb is 10km long and holds a steady 5-7 per cent gradient for the majority of the time.
After the summit at the 200km mark it is all downhill until the finish line in Riaza.
A transition stage like this one made for some of the most exciting racing in this year’s Tour, when Peter Sagan unleashed on the windy descent to Gap in Stage 16. It was edge-of-the-seat racing as the Slovakian national champ gave it everything to chase down eventual stage winner Ruben Plaza Molina.
With a 10km descent to the finish, today would have been the perfect stage for Sagan to make a breakaway win.
In his absence the stage will most likely go to whichever rider in the breakaway is willing to dance closest with danger.
A fast and furious finish awaits.
The stage is too hilly for the pure sprinters and while the general classification guys could well try to lay an ambush, it is unlikely any of the big names would end up isolated enough for that to work.
In their absence I’m going to tip Pierre Rolland to attack on the Puerto de la Quesera and descend away. He has been hunting a stage win all Vuelta and today could just be the right set of circumstances to help him across the line.
But what do you think Roarers? Let me know in the comments below and make sure you join us from 12 midnight for all the action.