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Luis Pérez Rodriguez signs off in style

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Pérez Rodriguez soloed to victory

Pérez Rodriguez soloed to victory
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Franco Pellizotti

Franco Pellizotti
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The peloton rolls in

The peloton rolls in
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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The cobbles caused pain

The cobbles caused pain
(Image credit: Sirotti)
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Pérez enjoyed his send off

Pérez enjoyed his send off
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Luis Pérez Rodriguez (Andalucia-Cayasur) retires with style and a Vuelta stage win

Luis Pérez Rodriguez (Andalucia-Cayasur) retires with style and a Vuelta stage win
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has a few of these types of photographs after nine stages in gold

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has a few of these types of photographs after nine stages in gold
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Perez soloed to victory

Perez soloed to victory
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Perez enjoyed his send off

Perez enjoyed his send off
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Going out on a high note Perez will retire at the end of the season

Going out on a high note Perez will retire at the end of the season
(Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre) kept the magenta points leader's jersey

Daniele Bennati (Lampre) kept the magenta points leader's jersey
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Magenta is your color, Daniele

Magenta is your color, Daniele
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has another day on the podium

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has another day on the podium
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Menchov is just days away from his first outright Vuelta win

Menchov is just days away from his first outright Vuelta win
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Luis Perez got his win the second Vuelta stage of his career

Luis Perez got his win the second Vuelta stage of his career
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bennati rolls in well behind the leaders

Bennati rolls in well behind the leaders
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Franco Pellizotti couldn't pull off the victory

Franco Pellizotti couldn't pull off the victory
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sammy Sanchez rolls home with the group of favourites

Sammy Sanchez rolls home with the group of favourites
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The maillot oro group comes in 41 seconds behind Perez

The maillot oro group comes in 41 seconds behind Perez
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The camera captures Perez winning his second career Vuelta stage

The camera captures Perez winning his second career Vuelta stage
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Perez had plenty of time to enjoy the moment

Perez had plenty of time to enjoy the moment
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The winner finishes in Ávila

The winner finishes in Ávila
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cobbles made the finishing circuit challenging

Cobbles made the finishing circuit challenging
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Is this Flanders?

Is this Flanders?
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The chase group fights its way home

The chase group fights its way home
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The cobbles caused pain and splits in the peloton

The cobbles caused pain and splits in the peloton
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) was aggressive again on stage 18

Carlos Sastre (CSC) was aggressive again on stage 18
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sanchez feels the pain of the effort it takes to cross cobblestones

Sanchez feels the pain of the effort it takes to cross cobblestones
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Perez floated over the stones to take the stage

Perez floated over the stones to take the stage
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Menchov had Vladimir Karpets to help protect his lead

Menchov had Vladimir Karpets to help protect his lead
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) moved up to second overall

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) moved up to second overall
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The second group fights to get through the cobbled circuit

The second group fights to get through the cobbled circuit
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Riders pass the fortified city wall of Avila

Riders pass the fortified city wall of Avila
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pellizotti tries and fails to chase Perez

Pellizotti tries and fails to chase Perez
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Perez looked smooth tackling the final circuit

Perez looked smooth tackling the final circuit
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The view of the finish circuit in Avila

The view of the finish circuit in Avila
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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compete on Oct. 23

compete on Oct. 23
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner) gets some encouragement

Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner) gets some encouragement
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The peloton rolls in to the fortified city of Avila

The peloton rolls in to the fortified city of Avila
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Fans watch from a grassy hill

Fans watch from a grassy hill
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The golden jersey of Menchov was as strong as the fortified walls, and resisted the attacks

The golden jersey of Menchov was as strong as the fortified walls, and resisted the attacks
(Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) pours on the pressure

Carlos Sastre (CSC) pours on the pressure
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Sastre attacked the favourites putting Menchov on the defensive

Sastre attacked the favourites putting Menchov on the defensive
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Perez spent a long time off the front and earned his victory

Perez spent a long time off the front and earned his victory
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Perez powers through to the finish

Perez powers through to the finish
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Perez makes his move

Perez makes his move
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Menchov wasn't getting any help from Evans

Menchov wasn't getting any help from Evans
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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The Liquigas train hauls the peloton along

The Liquigas train hauls the peloton along
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Caisse d'Epargne works to try and pull Efimkin back to his podium spot

Caisse d'Epargne works to try and pull Efimkin back to his podium spot
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Evans knows Efimkin is dropped and puts the hammer down to move up on GC to second

Evans knows Efimkin is dropped and puts the hammer down to move up on GC to second
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Sastre has fans in this region

Sastre has fans in this region
(Image credit: Unipublic)
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Efimkin's second place was slipping away, despite the hard work from his team

Efimkin's second place was slipping away, despite the hard work from his team
(Image credit: Unipublic)

General classification rearranged in aggressive day

Luis Pérez Rodriguez has signed off on 13 years as a professional cyclist in style. The 33 year-old Spaniard of Andalucía-Cajasur, who will retire on Sunday, won the 18th stage of the Vuelta a España to Ávila. Pérez Rodriguez powered clear of an escape group of race overall favourites at 10 kilometres to go.

"I am now one of the happiest people in the world," declared the winner. "I want to dedicate the win to my team Andalucía-Cajasur - from the riders to the whole outfit because it was the only team that had faith in me and cared about having me on its roster."

Pérez Rodriguez, who just recently announced that his retirement will come with the end of the Vuelta, joined a huge escape group at kilometre 17. He kept his cool over the Porte de Mijares and Porte de Navalmoral as the classification men fought out for seconds. The winner of the overall in this years Clasica de Alcobendas and a stage in the 2003 Vuelta timed his move perfectly by launching on the stiff slopes leading to the walled city of Ávila.

"I had already thought about it," he said of his surprise attack on the penultimate finishing lap. "Because [the rest of the group] would have waited to attack on the last climb [the second finishing circuit]. I caught them by surprise. I expected that the favourites' group would watch each other and that I could reach the finish."

The cobbled roads and ancient city proved to be a classy back drop to a rider on his swan song. Pérez Rodriguez held clear for the closing circuit, which included one more rise up the cobbled streets to Ávila and passing the gruppetto. Cheers from the chase group spurred Pérez Rodriguez to the win.

He crossed the line, pumped his right fist, gave the 2007 Vuelta its first win by a Pro Continental team and likely took his last professional victory. Over thirty seconds later, Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) led Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and race leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank) over the line.

"I knew this stage would be complicated especially in tactical terms," said Menchov. "There was a very hard first climb. We had to race very intelligently."

Curly haired Pellizotti was the surprise of the day. He seemed to have saved his strength while the others worked but could not mount a charge on the move of Pérez Rodriguez, and missed out on the win. In fact, the whole group seemed content to allow Pérez Rodriguez's gap build.

Sastre showed some unusual aggression. He and his team played a beautiful card by having its men in the early move to aid their leader when he bridged. Sastre attacked the Menchov group five kilometres before the summit of Porte de Mijares. The Spaniard move was immediately marked by Menchov and Evans, and sent Beltrán and Efimkin scrabbling.

CSC used Chris Anker Sørensen, Christian Vande Velde and then Volodimir Gustov to distance Sastre's rivals. It worked. With the help of Igor Antón for Euskaltel-Euskadi team-mate Samuel Sánchez, the group quickly distanced the chase group. The end result was that Sastre moved up to third overall, behind jersey oro Menchov and Evans, and 'Samu' Sánchez moved from fifth to fourth. Russian Efimkin held on to second overall going into the day, but slipped down three positions on the overall. Spaniard Beltrán moved down one spot, to eighth.

Menchov himself was impressed with CSC's tactics, reinforcing his belief that Sastre is the biggest threat to his race lead. "They [the journalists] always ask me who is the most dangerous rider and I've said the most dangerous is Carlos Sastre. CSC as team did a great job today."

How it unfolded

Ávila is a city that has preserved its famous ancient wall. The wall was built in the XI century and is 2.516 metres long surrounding the old town. It protected the ancient city inhabitants from foreign attacks.

The city has hosted the Vuelta 21 times. It is a must in the Vuelta's third week before arriving to the nearby capital city of Madrid. The tour didn't finish here last year, but it did in 2005 when Denmark's Nicki Sørensen won.

There were four abandons before the stage started in Talavera de la Reina: World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step - Innergetic), Laszlo Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and Allan Davis (Discovery Channel). The riders left in the race numbered 148.

Many riders wanted to do something in the stage. There were 24 riders, including Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel), Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel), Sylvan Chavanel (Cofidis), José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r Prévoyance) and Christian Vande Velde (CSC) who attacked. The escapees couldn't get a good gap, and they were all caught at kilometre 40.

Soon after, another group took the lead: Hubert Dupont (Ag2r Prévoyance), Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r Prévoyance), Luis Pérez Rodriguez (Andalucía-Cajasur), Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne), David López García (Caisse d'Epargne), Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Van Goolen (Discovery Channel), Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Iñaki Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Santos Gonzalez (Karpin Galicia), David Loosli (Lampre-Fondital), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre-Fondital), Ángel Vallejo (Relax-GAM), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Volodimir Gustov (CSC), Chris Anker Sørensen (Team CSC) and Christian Vande Velde (Team CSC).

Behind the leading group, Sastre attacked Menchov with the help of his team-mate Iñigo Cuesta. The Russian resisted, and got behind Sastre's wheel while Vladimir Efimkin couldn't keep the pace.

The chasing group mixed with some of the original leaders to form a new 12-man leading group at kilometre 56: Sastre, Menchov, Gustov, Karpets, Monfort, Anton, Pellizotti, Goubert, Luis Pérez Rodriguez, Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Samuel Sánchez and Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin Galicia).

Anker Sørensen and Vande Velde joined the leaders while Goubert fell from this group. Following the 13-man group was the chasing group of Efimkin, Zandio, Vallejo, Chavanel, Loosli, Van Goolen, David López García, Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas), Daniel Moreno (Relax-GAM) and José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) that was 38 seconds behind at kilometre 76.

Stéphane Goubert and his Ag2r team-mate Dupont were able to join the front riders, while the chasing group was caught by the peloton at kilometre 93. The leaders were 2'45" ahead of the big group at that point.

On the last climb of the day in Navalmoral, the escapes climbed very well and maintained the advantage. They led by 2'53" at kilometre 119 (34.5 kilometres to go). They arrived at the outskirts of Ávila (14.5 kilometres to go) 2'50" in the lead.

On rider dared to make the first attack, and he prevailed. Luis Pérez Rodriguez chose the first go on the uphill pavé with 13 kilometres to go. Three kilometres on, the Spaniard led by 26 seconds over the chasers.

Pérez Rodriguez increased and maintained the advantage: 33 seconds ahead with nine kilometres to go, 35 with eight, 42 with six, 38 with five, 38 with four, 43 with three and 48 with two. Samuel Sánchez wanted to catch but couldn't find the way, not even on the second charge up the pavé. Finally, Pérez Rodriguez crossed the finish line solo, 40 seconds ahead of his chasers. The Efimkin group arrived 3'06" slower.

Stage 19 - September 21: Ávila - Alto de Abantos, 133km

The third-to-last stage of the Vuelta will sort out the GC and see a rider rise to defend his golden top or a new champion snatch the threads with the hope of running clear to Madrid. The stage is only 133 kilometres but it is packed with five classified climbs before the final mountain top arrival on the Alto de Abantos.

Nervous eyes will be forced to watch every move that goes in the early portion of the day. Valdelavía and Hoyo de la Guija will be faced before the cyclists reach the two closing circuits that include climbs Alto de Robledondo and Alto de Abantos. The second round ends at the summit of Alto de Abantos; the climb averages 5.7% gradient and with section of 19%.

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