Vinokourov strengthens his grip, and Kashechkin takes another stage
In another impressive display of teamwork from the Astana team, Andrey Kashechkin and Alexandre Vinokourov finished first and second atop Sierra de la Pandera, the finishing climb of stage 18. The pair got together a few kilometres from the summit of the murderously steep climb, after Kashechkin bridged up to a Vinokourov attack, and Vinokourov generously gave Kashechkin the stage win, even if it cost him a few bonus seconds. José Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) was third at half a minute, closely followed by Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), who now trails Vinokourov by 53 seconds on GC.
The stage was marked by a non-threatening breakaway containing Nicki Sorensen (Team CSC), Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole), Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam), Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank) and Pierre Drancourt (Bouygues Telecom), which got 4'30 before Caisse d'Epargne decided the best tactic today was to ride as hard as possible and try to tire Vinokourov out before the last climb. But in the end, Vino had the legs and attacked with just over 5 km to go to put Valverde in a lot of trouble. The Spaniard initially lost 38 seconds, but then fought back to limit it to 32 seconds at the finish.