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Vuelta a España 2011: Stage 18


Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, 174.6km from Solares to Noja.

98km remaining from 169km

Lying 18:41 down in 22nd place this morning, Rodriguez is clearly determined to finish his Vuelta with a flourish, and he was a prominent member of the 17-rider break that formed a shade under 10km into proceedings this morning.

Rodriguez was joined in the move by Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Martin Kohler (BMC), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre-ISD), Francis De Greef (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Josep Jufre (Astana), Davide Malacarne (Quick Step), Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo), Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack), Volodymir Gustov (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Alexandre Geniez (Skil-Shimano), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) and Nico Sijmens (Cofidis).

After covering over 46km in the hyperactive opening hour of racing, the break had a lead of 10:40 over the peloton.

Matteo Montaguti led the escapees over the top of the category 3 Puerto de Braguia after 56.2km, and by that point, Geox had come to the front of the bunch and the gap had stabilised at 9:30.

Nico Sijmens (Cofidis) was the first man to the top of the next climb, the 2nd category Alto del Caracol (75km), where the margin back to the peloton was 9:27.

82km remaining from 169km

Geox are continuing to lead the peloton, but the men in white and black are simply looking to keep the break's lead from spiralling out of control rather than pull them back. It's really not in their interests to contest the stage win and risk conceding bonus seconds.

It's interesting to note the presence of Heinrich Haussler in this break. With three more climbs to come, it will be a big ask for Haussler to hang on to the likes of Rodriguez, Kiserlovski and Luis Leon Sanchez, but he said before the stage that his priority was to prepare for the world championships. "It is impossible for me to win a stage here this year," Haussler said candidly. The Garmin-Cervelo rider has been prominent in a number of breaks during the Vuelta, as he looks to stake his claim for a role in the Australian team in Copenhagen.

75km remaining from 169km

The rest of the break were still picking through their musettes after coming through the feed zone, but the 17 are now all back together again at the end of the race.

Geox-TMC continue to lead the peloton, but the pace is rather sedate - and with good reason, this has been a very tough Vuelta, and the tired legs in the bunch will not have appreciated what was another rapid and fractured start to the stage today.

The breakaways are currently riding towards the foot of the day's major difficulty, the 1st category Puerto de Alisas. After that 9km ascent, they'll tackle a brace of third category climbs ahead of the run-in to Noja.

Tomorrow, the Vuelta makes its return to the Basque Country after an absence of 33 years, and this morning it was announced that neighbouring Navarra will host the race start next year. Pamplona will be the site of an opening time trial, as the Vuelta returns to Miguel Indurain country for the first time since 1994.

Euskaltel-Euskadi have had a disappointing Vuelta to date, as Igor Anton's challenge faltered early on. The Basque squad have Juan Jose Oroz in the break today, but the will be looking to salvage their race with victory on home roads in the next couple of days.

63km remaining from 169km

Race leader Juan Jose Cobo is sitting on Denis Menchov's wheel in the peloton, and looking quite comfortable. With his helmet tilted backwards in his typical style, the "Bison" always cuts a distinctive figure in the peloton, even without the red jersey.

Heinrich Haussler accelerates out of the break at the foot of the climb, and is instantly followed by Rodriguez and Kiserlovski.

Kiserlovski then follows through alone, and now he has Montaguti and Sijmens for company, with the rest of the break a little further behind.

57km remaining from 169km

55km remaining from 169km

A kilometre to go to the summit of the climb for the leading quartet, who have 18 seconds over their pursuers. De Greef is setting the tempo here, and looking very comfortable.

Joaquim Rodriguez has now danced his way across to the leaders, to roars of approval from the home fans. Paulinho and Vandewalle have also joined them.

Indeed, as we approach the summit of the climb, it looks as though the majority of the break is going to come back together. Kiserlovski was not best pleased with his erstwhile companions, and Paulinho was also seen remonstrating.

53km remaining from 169km

Great riding from Sijmens, he put in a ferocious sprint to hold off Montaguti and deny the Italian the maximum return of points.

The majority of the break comes back together as they begin the descent. Their lead has stretched out to 10:40 on the Puerto de Alisas.

Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) attacks out of the peloton on the climb. The Irishman isn't going to match his cousin Dan Martin by winning the stage today, but he will be looking to take advantage of the lull in proceedings in the main peloton to try and jump up a few places overall.

Another man with the same idea is Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM). He is currently lying just outside the top 10, and he has leapt across toward Nicolas Roche.

Roche is currently 17th overall at 10:31, and he is leading Poels up the climb.

40km remaining from 169km

Rodriguez takes a break from admonishing Montaguti to rattle off a sprint and pick up the bonus seconds at the foot of the the climb of Cruz Usaño.

Without even stopping to catch his breath, Rodriguez resumes chastising Montaguti. As the climb begins in earnest, Rodriguez hits the front of the break with Montaguti planted on his wheel.

37km remaining from 169km

Sijmens attacks approaching the summit of the third category climb. Montaguti follows but relents shortly afterwards, and settles for second place behind the Belgian.

Roche and Poels have been brought back the main peloton at the foot of the Cruz Usaño thanks to the efforts of Euskaltel-Euskadi. The men in orange are continuing to set the tempo as the road begins to climb.

Haussler, Luis Leon Sanchez Malacarne, Timmer and Kohler were all left behind on the earlier 1st category Puerto de Alisas. Over the summit, it appeared as though the break would come back together, but it appears that they ran out of descent. They're  now around a minute behind the reduced leading group of 11 riders.

30km remaining from 169km

28km remaining from 169km

Rodriguez is one of many riders who has been left without a contract for next season following the merger between RadioShack and Leopard Trek, and the Olympic silver medallist from Athens is determined to remind a few people of his talents here.

The Portuguese rider takes the occasional glance over his shoulder, but he doesn't seem to be looking for any help, and he has 23 seconds over his erstwhile companions.

26km remaining from 169km

Behind, the reaction comes from Sijmens, who crests the summit just ahead of Montaguti. That group will need to organise itself quickly to bring Paulinho back to heel.

Mechanical problems for Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), but the green jersey gets a quick bike change and is back in the bunch almost instantly.Mollema has long been touted as one of the coming talents of Dutch cycling, and he certainly hasn't disappointed on this Vuelta. His fourth place on GC is a fair reflection of his assured performance over the course of the three weeks.

22km remaining from 169km

Euskaltel-Euskadi are getting a warm reception from the fans on the roadside. The Basque squad have been to the fore in the main field ever since Poels and Roche went on the offensive, and we can be sure that we'll see even more from them tomorrow.

20km remaining from 169km

18km remaining from 169km

Paulinho is pedalling very smoothly out in front, it will take a concerted effort to bring him back.

Almost 12 minutes behind, the main peloton reaches the top of the final climb of the day, and Cobo should retain his 13-second lead over Froome ahead of the duo of stages in the Basque Country.

15km remaining from 169km

Joaquim Rodriguez is now trying to get things organised behind.

11km remaining from 169km

Sijmens puts in a dig on a short uncategorised climb and Gavazzi is promptly on to his wheel, before the remainder of the group closes.

Gavazzi would fancy his chances in a group sprint, so he will be alert to all of these moves. Up ahead, however, Paulinho is showing no signs of suffering, and is still 30 seconds clear.

10km remaining from 169km

9km remaining from 169km

Sijmens adds a bit of pace to the pursuit and shaves another 2 seconds off the gap.

7km remaining from 169km

6km remaining from 169km

Kiserlovski has been very much to the fore in the last 10km in trying to shut down Paulinho, and the Portuguese is within site of the chasers.

5km remaining from 169km

4km remaining from 169km

3km remaining from 169km

2km remaining from 169km

2km remaining from 169km

Vandewalle has done all the work so far, but Gavazzi hasn't flinched.

1km remaining from 169km

Vandewalle tries to ride Gavazzi off his wheel, but he hasn't succeeded.

Vandewalle leads into the finishing straight but Gavazzi is perfectly placed.

Gavazzi comes around Vandewalle, opens the sprint early and takes the win emphatically.

Geniez leads the chasers home 13 seconds down.

Francesco Gavazzi won that very comfortably, with all of two lengths to spare over Vandewalle.

That's the 27-year-old Gavazzi's fourth win of the season, and they've all come on the Iberian peninsula - he won a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country in April, and followed that up with two wins at the Tour of Portugal last month.


The main peloton still has 2km to go, and Omega Pharma-Lotto are forcing the pace on the run-in to Noja.

Cobo is keeping a very close eye on Chris Froome here, in case the peloton splits in the finale.

Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome are up there in the sprint for places as the peloton crosses the line, but Juan Jose Cobo is present and correct too, and there will be no change to the business end of the overall standings this evening.


General classification:

As the peloton came over 7 minutes down on the escapees, Joaquim Rodriguez and Kiserlovski will both move up the overall standings this evening, while Rodriguez also picked up enough points to dispossess Bauke Mollema of the green jersey.

Thanks for joining us for our live coverage today. As ever, we'll have a full report, pictures and results from today's stage online in due course. We'll also be back tomorrow for live coverage of stage 19, which sees the Vuelta make an eagerly-awaited return to one of the true heartlands of world cycling, the Basque Country. Before that, stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all of the latest news from the Vuelta.

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