After slipping from first to third overall following the stage 17 Vuelta a Espana time trial, Joaquim Rodriguez looked to bounce back immediately and dislodge Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) from the race leader's red jersey on stage 18. Sitting 1:15 minute down on the 24-year-old, Rodriguez will have two more opportunities to claw back time on Dumoulin before Sunday's circuit race in Madrid concludes the three week race.
With Fabio Aru sitting just three seconds behind Dumoulin, Rodriguez is likely to be marked by both Astana and Giant-Alpecin over the next two stages as he attempts to claim a debut grand tour victory. Rodriguez took it upon himself to move up the standings on the 204km stage from Roa to Riaza as he launched a long range attack with 35km to race after teammate Angel Vicioso had tried making an earlier move only to have Astana shut both down.
On the final climb of the day up the Puerto de la Quesera, it was Aru's turn to attack Dumoulin, doing so on no less than six occasions with none landing the desired knockout blow. The top ten all finished together on the same time having all come back together in the final kilometres, 38 seconds back on stage winner Nico Roche (Team Sky) as Rodriguez rolled across the line in sixth place.
"Astana controlled with a very impressive fast rhythm until the last climb, hoping to isolate Dumoulin, but that didn't work out. Dumoulin is strong. In my opinion it would be better to save the forces to attack him many times instead of imposing a high pace. We tried to play our game but it was not so easy. Finally we all came together at the finish. Let's see what happens in the next two days," said Rodriguez.
The 36-year-old will also need to watch for Rafal Majka in fourth place, 1:07 minutes in arrears, who is harbouring ambitions for his first grand tour podium finish. While the odds of Rodriguez stealing an overall victory in the next few days lengthen, the Spaniard is currently enjoying the lead of the points and combinations classifications and on the cusp of adding to his 2005 king of the mountains triumph.