By Bjorn Haake in Las Rozas
Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) is fighting to take home the blue points jersey from the Vuelta a España which he inherited after the departure of Tom Boonen on Wednesday. However, he is up against none other than likely Vuelta winner Alberto Contador (Astana) for that honor. Going into stage 18, Van Avermaet had a lead of only two points over the Spaniard.
With a sprint finish unlikely, Silence-Lotto changed its strategy. "We decided not to ride with the team today. Instead, we wanted to see if we could have somebody in the breakaway," Van Avermaet explained to Cyclingnews after receiving another blue jersey following stage 18.
Van Avermaet fought to get into today's move, and was ultimately successful. "I tried four, five times to get away and I had some luck that I was able to enter the break."
This opened up a very great opportunity for him. He was able to get both intermediate sprints and added eight points to his tally. He also tried to win the stage, but found he was a marked man. "The finish was not easy. Bettini and I could not ride away from the others. They were always watching us."
While admitting that it was very difficult to win the stage, he was happy with gaining more points. "I think it was important to take 18 points today [including 10 for his sixth place - ed.]"
Van Avermaet said he won't be going off the front of the Vuelta any time soon, at least not on Friday's stage to Segovia "I don't think I can be in the break tomorrow, " he said. "I am a bit tired now. I think that's normal." But he will try again in Madrid to receive more points and get his biggest prize yet.
In between, the uphill time trial on Saturday could tip the balance back in Alberto Contador's favour in the points classification. "I have to hope that Contador has bad legs on Saturday," he laughed.