The two strong riders from Kazakhstan in this year's Vuelta, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, again showed how it was done in today's 18th stage to La Pandera. After Vinokourov attacked with 5 km to the summit, Kashechkin joined him a few kilometres later, just as his captain was starting to tire, and the pair worked together to increase their advantage over Valverde and co. until the end, with Kashechkin winning the stage.
"I am very satisfied with what we have done yesterday and today," said Kashechkin. "In the last days in the mountains, the team was very good, we have tried to do good things and have managed it. Vinokourov has taken the leader's jersey and today I have won, while Alexandre increased his advantage on Valverde."
Kashechkin said he was happy with the fact that Caisse d'Epargne set a high tempo for most of the day, just in case the Astana boys were weakened after yesterday. He said that he did not speak to Vino when they came together near the top of La Pandera. "No, we have not spoken because it was not necessary. We are good friends and one day I work for him and another he does it for me. We came to the Vuelta very motivated after not being able to do the Tour de France, and I was also sure that if I was taking the leader's jersey, Vino would work for me."
Vinokourov let Kashechkin have the stage win, but that meant that Vino lost out on a few bonus seconds, which may or may not be important at the end. "It was important that Vinokourov was taking time, but also that I took an advantage over Sastre for the podium," explained Kashechkin, who didn't believe he could beat Valverde to finish second overall.
Vinokourov, who now leads by 53 seconds, explained the team's tactics. "This morning I said to all my teammates that the best defence was attack. I saw that Valverde was not very good and, after seeing Kashechkin's assault, I decided to attack.
"I believe that the race is not over until Madrid, but today I have taken a lot of confidence and expect to be able to take slightly more time in the time trial."
Finally, Vinokourov said that it was a "very important" victory, "because it is great publicity for the team, for cycling and for our country."