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Hello and welcome the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, from Valladolid to Salamanca.
Both Valladolid and Salamanca feature regularly on the Vuelta's itinerary. The latter's most memorable recent stage finish was in 1994, when Italian sprinter Adriano Baffi was adjudged to have forced his Mercatone Uno team-mate Mario Cipollini into the barriers. As Baffi rode on to take the stage, the helmetless ‘Cipo' crunched head first into the road. He was badly hurt and took months to recover.
Baffi was stripped of the victory, although he insisted: "I didn't touch him at all." No one could say why the two teammates had been duelling for the victory in the first place, although Baffi did venture that, "In almost all the Dutch and Belgian teams there are two or three sprinters and it's not a problem." He added, "I didn't know who was coming up behind me, and had I known it was Cipollini I might have let him pass. Or perhaps not…"
Today is a stage for the sprinters though and we're about to get under way, the riders are all at the line.
This is about as flat as stages come on Spain's central plateau. Connecting Valladolid, a start town for the 34th time, and Salamanca, which hosts its 21st finish, the stage also pays tribute to the race's 75th anniversary. The link is that the first Vuelta started with a stage between Madrid and Valladolid, which was won by Belgium's Antoine Digneff. As with the time trial, the wind could be tricky here. Its effect can be brutal on these wide-open plains.
All are accounted for, except for Theo Bos, who crashed out of the race yesterday. You can read all about his crash right here.
Despite riders like Hushovd, Bos and Petacchi retiring from the race we still have a few very handy fast men in the race. Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar being the two most notable names. Both are still in contention for the points jersey - although the HTC sprinter currently leads Farrar by 21 points.
Other guys to watch out for today are Hondo, Gilbert, Davis, Bennati, Hutarovich and Fernandez. If I've missed anyone, please let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson
The bunch are rolling through the neutralized zone right now. A few smiles on the guys at the front. Just a few more stages and they'll be in Madrid. As for the conditions today - well they're pretty good. 20 degrees, overcast but a little bit humid.
Before the real action begins and we scan through today's news, let's have a look at how things stand overall. Nibali now leads after yesterday's performance in the TT. He blitzed most of his opposition and with one tough mountain stage to come, he really only need to neutralise the threat of Mosquera. However, we've had such a great race with so many twists and turns along the way that anything can happen between now and Madrid.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 71:19:49
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:39
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:02:00
4 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:44
5 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:03:45
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team
7 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions 0:03:55
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:04:03
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:04:13
10 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:05:43
And we're off. However the news isn't good for Garmin-Transitions. Dave Zabriskie, top ten in yesterday's time trial has withdrawn from the race. No reason is given as yet. Could he be heading back to the US to defend his national TT crown this weekend?
Jonny Weltz is driving the Garmin team car so let's give him a call.
I hope he's using hands free...
Okay, so more on Zabriskie, from Weltz, "He's okay but he's got what he needed from the race. He's tired and he'll head back home now for the Worlds. He may do the US national time trial but I really don't know yet. He'll certainly be at the Worlds though."
As for Tyler Farrar: "Tyler is motivated for today. He's practically had two rest days in a row and he's totally dialled in for today's stage. Once again, Cavendish is the main guy to beat."
Thanks to Jonny (Garmin-Transitions) for taking our call.
We already have a break from the race. Dominik Roels, Alberto Benitez, Juan Javier Estrada, Jose Toribio, Pablo Urtasun, Alexandre Pichot, Daniele Pietropolli and Olivier Kaisen have 50 seconds on the bunch.
The break have a lead of 1.14 already. Well that formed pretty quickly, hey?
Well keep one eye on the break but let's go through the day's news (and a bit more) with another guest, Daniel Friebe.
DB: Hi Daniel, welcome to the CN blimp. It's a pleasure to have you back in the co-pilot's seat.
DF: Pleasure to be here.
DB: Let's start with the news that came out yesterday about the Italian worlds selection. What do you think of the squad?
DF: Mixed feelings. A few Italian colleagues were quite concerned when Paolo Bettini was mooting names in the press. There seemed to be a lot of, shall we say, his old friends in contention. Besides Andrea Tonti's selection as a reserve, by and large I think he resisted the temptation to recreate the Old Boys' Club which led him to two Worlds titles.
Meanwhile folks, the lead for the break is up to 1.35. We've got our day's break.
DF: Not really. Both have been poor this season. The most alarming facet of Cunego's season, and indeed the evolution of his career, is how he's lost the weapon which should have made him more effective and prolific as he got older: his sprint, particularly in small groups. Twice, he was in the shake-up in small groups at the Tour, and twice he fell well short.
DF: Ballan in an enigma. My hunch is that we may never see him contend in the Monuments again. Having said all of that, is Giovanni Visconti a better bet as a "third" leader than Cunego? Probably not - not over 260km.
We're 20km into the stage and the lead is now up to 2.14. The break are working well together and for now the bunch are willing to give them some rope. That'll all change later in the stage when the sprinters' teams come to the front.
DB: What do you base your enigma assessment of Ballan on?
DF: Based on his performances since Varese in 2008, and, I regret to say, a certain doping investigation in Mantova earlier this year.
DB: Let's move on. I assume that you tuned into yesterday's thrilling stage at the Vuelta. What did you make of the result and the performance from Velits?
DF: First of all, I mean no malice towards Joaquin Rodriguez, but part of me did find it refreshing to see a climber in contention for a major tour completely flop in a TT, as opposed to the usual eyebrow-raising miracles. Rodriguez's performance was an absolute shocker.
As for Peter Velits's win, well that was a huge surprise. HTC-Columbia riders consistently overperform in time trials, and Velits has certainly improved in that department this year, but it was still a major upset. I can remember seeing Velits completely overhaul his riding position when he was fitted for his first HTC team bike at a training camp in Italy after last year's Worlds. I was very curious at the time to see what effect it would have, given what we know about his talent, and the fact that he'd shown only glimpses of his potential at Milram. After a quiet start to the year, it seems that he's really making strides now.
The lead has come down a bit. It's just over 2 minutes now. At the first sprint, Roels took the points, ahead of Pichot and Kaisen. It's also raining too.
DF: Mark Cavendish is raving about the Velits twins. He reckons they're crying out for a good magazine or website feature (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, Daniel)
DB: Don't nudge me. It's hard work controlling this blimp while also typing. Tut. Point taken though.
DB: Talking about magazines and websites, you recently stepped down as features editor at Procycling. What are you up to these days and what are your plans for the future.
DF: I'm taking a break for a few weeks but will be back writing some features for Procycling and Cyclingnews (am I right?), plus working on some book projects in the none-too-distant future. That's all assuming Take That don't decide to advertise for a sixth member...
DB: I've seen your dance moves so it's unlikely. However CN would certainly welcome you to the team.
The lead is still holding at just over 2 minutes so the bunch aren't exactly sitting back just yet.
DB: Finally, Daniel. Who are you picking for today's sprint? Cav or Farrar?
DF: Has to be Cav, doesn't it? He was actually sick at the start of the Vuelta but decided to keep it quiet. Now he's back to full health and fitness, he should be unbeatable.
DB: Right, ta for joining us Daniel and good luck!
DF: No worries.
The bunch are giving the break a bit more room now. The lead is just over 3 minutes for the first time today. They're having to work hard for every single second at the moment.
One story we didn't talk about when Daniel Friebe was here was that the AFLD have offered to collaborate with the investigation in the US and give up Armstrong's samples from the 1999 Tour de France. You can read all about it, right here.
Finally, things are looking up for Bbox. There's talk in the office that they may pull a sponsor out of the hat for next season, although nothing has been confirmed. Yet.
Oh, before I forget. Congratulations to Kristin Armstrong Savola & Joe Savola who had a baby yesterday. Lucas William Savola was born Sept 15th at 4:30 AM, 8lbs 6 oz and 2.
The lead is down again. It's 2.14 now with a few teams sitting on the front doing the work. There are just a couple more stages suited to the sprinters and the Vuelta has really been the best showdown we've had between Cavendish and Farrar this year. Cav was out of sorts early in the Tour de France, while Farrar crashed and was too injured to really sprint at 100 per cent. Both riders have had long seasons but at least they're both fit and healthy. Both will be going to the Worlds.
The break have reached Villaverde del Campo with their lead still just over 2 minutes.
Earlier I asked if I'd left any possible stage winners of my list. It appears I did.
@dnlbenson You missed JJ Haedo from your list of sprinters.
Tyler Farrar finished second last in yesterday’s time trial. “I took it like another rest”, he admitted. The American obviously wants to get a second stage win after stage 5 at Lorca. His duel with Cavendish will be on again. The fight for the green jersey remains open as well.
Mark Cavendish declared: “We’re coming close to the end of the Vuelta. I still feel very good. Today it should be a bunch sprint and I dream of the same job by Matt (Goss) and myself as in Lleida and Burgos even though it won’t be easy to control because it’s a short stage.”
Meanwhile Katusha team president Andreï Tchmil is visiting the Vuelta until Sunday. He made clear that Kim Kirchen will not ride for the team again. “I have offered him a position in the staff and he can even choose the job he wants”, said the boss of the Russian team. “But I won’t be the team manager who will put him back on a bike. He must remember that he has been saved by two members of our team: Joaquin Rodriguez who was rooming with him and alerted Dr Mikhailov who practised cardiopulmonary and mouth to mouth resuscitation.”
We've covered 55km of racing so far and to bring you up to speed we have a group of 8 riders up the road. They are, Dominik Roels (Team Milram), Alberto Benitez (Footon-Servetto), Juan Javier Estrada (Andalucia-Cajasur), Jose Toribio (Andalucia-Cajasur), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alexandre Pichot (BBOX Bouygues Telecom), Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Olivier Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
It doesn't look good for our group out front. The gap is down to less than two minutes now.
It's a short stage so the bunch aren't giving them much room to play with. At least the eight up front are getting some valuable publicity for their teams.
They've lost another 10 seconds. More sprinters teams are moving to the front now, while a couple of riders have dropped back to team cars to fetch bottles. There's a bit more rain now too.
The gap is down to just 1.37. It's just a matter of time now. However the bunch will probably keep them out there for a while longer. They're in total control right though.
As expected the bunch has eased off a bit now and the gap has moved back out to 1.45.
The gap is now up to 2.05 as Liquigas set the pace on the front of the bunch. Nice, long flat roads as HTC and Garmin move to the front of the bunch. Two strong teams looking to set things up for Farrar and Cavendish.
News that Oscar Sevilla has tested positive - news on the site will be up shortly.
Liquigas are sitting back a bit now, no one in the break is a threat on GC, so it's up to Garmin and HTC to control affairs. We'll see other sprinters join the mix in the final few km but the two American teams will do the majority of the work.
The break still working well together meanwhile. Nibali, back in the bunch, is just sitting tight and keeping out of trouble.
Moncoutie right at the back of the bunch. He'll certainly be taking things easily today. One more mountain stage to come and he'll be looking to seal the KOK title and perhaps grab another stage win.
The bunch now going through the feed and picking up some food. The gap to the break could stretch up to 3 minutes.
Crash in the feed zone. Pierre Cazaux hits the deck. Feed zones are always dangerous and the Frenchman is up on his feet. He's hobbling at the moment and looks in some pain. I think he banged his knee pretty hard. He's waiting for the team car so he can have a new bike.
Back in the break and Roels is calling for his team car. And up it comes. A few words are exchanged, while Pierre Cazaux has his knee bandaged and gets back on his bike.
The bunch is strung out now along the left-hand side of the road as Garmin increase the pace marginally. Less than 60km to go now and the gap still at two minutes.
Cancellara is munching down an energy bar. He, rather surprisingly, didn't win yesterday's time trial. He may not even compete in the Worlds. That would be a surprise, however he did miss them two years ago after the Olympics. One this is certain though, if he doesn't think he can win he won't go to the Worlds.
Liquigas still sitting just behind the Garmin-HTC train. They're surrounding their man Nibali, the current race leader.
Frank Schleck safely tucked in, just behind the wheel of Luis Leon Sanchez. The gap to the break is still hovering around at just under two minutes. No sign of the likes of Cavendish or Farrar just yet. They'll be in the bunch getting ready for the sprint.
Garmin have their whole team on the front now. HTC, just a couple of faces from their squad.
Pierre Cazaux has made it back to the bunch.
Caisse are now on the front and in force. Do we have some cross winds?
The entire bunch have jumped into life. Could there be an ambush? There's little shelter out there so we could have some cross wind action.
The seconds off the break's lead already as Caisse and Quick Step move to the front. Cavendish is near the front too.
The gap is down to 1.25 now.
The GC men are going to have to pay attention now. They won't want to lose any time if the race splits up.
Garmin and HTC have brushed the ambush from Caisse aside and sit back on the front of the bunch.
Cavendish has moved to around 10 riders back. He'll want to keep out of trouble but he'll be wary of any more moves from teams like Caisse.
Nibali and Cancellara having a little chat further back in the bunch.
A few HTC riders follow Cavendish to the front of the bunch and start setting the pace. The gap to the group has gone out to 1.51.
Roels takes a turn on the front and gives the cameras a smile and a wave.
The break still working nicely together. The gap is down to 1.25 now
Garmin take a little rest and HTC now have their team on the front. They're all there, Cavendish in around twelfth wheel at the moment.
The leaders have just over a minute now. HTC stamping their authority on the race immediately. Garmin and Quick Step are also helping out.
The cars are being pulled out from the break now. The gap is less than 50 seconds so break will be caught soon.
The gap is still holding at around 50 seconds. HTC, Garmin, Quick Step all still on the front of the bunch as they aim to reel in the break just before the line.
It's not a very easy finish today, there's a roundabout in the final 3km and then two or three left-hand bends.
Big crowds out for the riders now. Always good to see in a major race like the Vuelta.
43 seconds now as Peterson hits the front for Garmin and takes the bunch through a right hand bend. Riders are starting to struggle at the back of the bunch as the pace increases.
39 seconds now for the break. It'll all be over pretty soon for the eight men at the front of the race.
That's Van Garderen on the front now. He's had a difficult few days as the race moved into its third week but he's doing a good job for Cavendish today.
Estrada is struggling in the break and almost gets dropped. Half the riders want to stop, the others want to push on. The gap is down to just 17 seconds though.
The break are just rolling now, looking at each other and waiting for the bunch. The bunch have slowed slightly though.
Now the break is attacking each other.
Kaisen is the only rider to make a decent move, while the others have decided that's it for the day.
Ten seconds is the gap.
Twelve to go, Martin Velits drilling it on the front now as HTC, Lampre, Garmin, Saxo all move to the front. Lots of riders will be trying to go for the win today. Most the break has been caught.
11 to go and Velits swings off. Riders moving up to the front of the bunch and taking risks in the process. Lampre have Hondo for the sprint.
Two riders have pulled over to the side of the road and un clipped. That could be a GC rider or sprinter has a problem. Cant see who they are yet though.
Meanwhile, Farrar is sitting right on Cav's back wheel.
He's got about 40 meters. Not sure that's going to work.
Actually the gap is a little bigger now. He's got around 100 meters.
Gilbert still has a small gap. He's testing his legs before the Worlds and he's doing a good job of sneaking away with another stage. I'm sure the bunch will catch him before the line but good on Gilbert for giving us something to write about.
HTC have Gilbert in their sights. The gap now around 50 meters. Gilbert looks back and then eases up. All back together again.
Liquigas now take over the work on the front, Bennati must think he has a strong chance of doing something today.
Just four to go and the bunch are all together. Take your pick from the sprinters.
It's chaos now in the pack. No one team wants to take it up.
Surely someone will attack. Tondo is leading things. That's not right, is it?
Quick Step do the honourable thing and take up the challenge. Three to go.
Two to go. One big roundabout coming up. then the tricky corners.
Barredo on the front for QS>
Long line now, Menchov dropped but at the front QS still on the front. Then Goss then Cav.
Goss is doing loads of work to keep Cav in contention. Perhaps too much.
Goss opens up with 400 to go.
Cav comes off his wheel but Haedo is closing in on him.. The HTC rider is sprinting to the line. Can he hang on?
Cavendish takes it.
Quick Step went from too far out, but Goss did a fantastic job to bring Cavendish in contention. The HTC sprinter goes straight to the Australian and gives him a huge hug.
Cav took it by just over a bike length. Hondo and Forster were in the mix but Farrar wasn't in a good enough position coming into the final 500 meters. Looks like Cavendish will have secured the points jersey.
Farrar has to settle for fourth, Cardoso was third.
There was a bit of a split and Nibali finished five seconds down, but he was with all the main GC winners.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia
2 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank
3 Manuel Cardoso (Por) Footon-Servetto
4 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions
5 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne
6 Robert Förster (Ger) Team Milram
7 Enrique Mata Cabello (Spa) Footon-Servetto
8 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
9 Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
10 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini
Here's the GC. No changes in the top ten.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia
4 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
5 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team
6 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team
8 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
9 David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha
Thanks for joining us today. Stay tuned for more live coverage from the Vuelta, tomorrow.