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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 18


At last one for the sprinters again! Or will another break group make it to the finish line first after the 204.5km from Aguilar de Campoo to Vallodolid?

We have all survived the high mountains, and now the sprinters hope to get another chance for glory.

89km remaining from 204km

An early break got away today, and do we mean early. As soon as the flag dropped, announcing the sharp start, several riders took off and three of them stayed away, to be joined moments later by two more. The group is:  Luia Angel Mate  (Cofidis), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM), Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Andalucia). They have built up a lead of 3:30 with 89 km to go, and had a maximum of 4:50.

This stage may be a flat one, but it takes place up on the high plains. And that means wind, which may well play a role today.

This was the third time a stage has started in Aguilar de Campoo, following 1983 and 1985.

The Vuelta is no newcomer to Vallodolid. The last rider to win here was the late Wouter Weylandt, in 2008.

72km remaining from 204km

The gap is starting to fall, and is now at 2:30. Surely they don't really want to catch the break group quite this early.

Flat? Yes. Not a ranked climb to be found, but there are a few bumps along the way.

Happy Birthday today to Thomas Dekker of Garmin-Sharp.  The Dutchman has turned 28 years old.

Yesterday's exciting and dramatic action sure shook up the GC. Here is how it looks coming into today's stage:

1     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank     68:07:54      
2     Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team     0:01:52      
3     Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team     0:02:28      
4     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     0:09:40      
5     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     0:11:36      
6     Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     0:12:06      
7     Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team     0:12:55      
8     Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp     0:13:06      
9     Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi     0:13:49      
10     Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team     0:14:10      


Joaquim Rodriguez at least held on to the points jersey after losing the leader's jersey yesterday.

1     Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team     170     pts
2     Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team     159      
3     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank     152      
4     John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano     112      
5     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     93      
6     Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan     66      
7     Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale     60      
8     Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team     55      
9     Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale     55      
10     Allan Davis (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge     54      

Simon Clarke of Orica-GreenEdge still has a narrow lead in the mountains ranking, but doesn't have to worry about his rivals today.

1     Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge     38     pts
2     Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team     36      
3     Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team     33      
4     Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team     31      
5     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank     28      
6     Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep     27      
7     David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne     18      
8     Antonio Piedra Perez (Spa) Caja Rural     17      
9     David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Caja Rural     17      
10     Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep     13    

Don't worry, we are still keeping an eye on the race. Just not much happening at the moment.

Rodriguez also still leads the combination classification.

1     Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team     6     pts
2     Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team     8      
3     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank     9      
4     Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling     25      
5     Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team     44      
6     Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale     58      
7     Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team     68      
8     Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep     76      
9     Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling     88      
10     Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan     96      

And here the top teams:

1     Movistar Team     204:11:00      
2     Euskaltel - Euskadi     0:17:36      
3     Rabobank Cycling Team     0:25:16      
4     AG2R La Mondiale     0:26:11      
5     Sky Procycling     0:34:43

179 riders took to the start today, which means that 19 riders have had to drop out of the race along the way. Worst hit is Lotto Belisol, which is down to five riders. FDJ-Big Mat and Vacansoleil have each lost two riders each, and 12 teams are one rider down. That means that eight teams are still at full strength.

Yesterday's victory was Alberto Contador's first since returning from his suspension, and what a win it was. No wonder he was overwhelmed by his emotions afterwards.

Will John Degenkolb take his fifth stage win today? “I’m feeling good”, said the German. “I’ve survived a very hard week-end of racing. I’m in good shape. The way I’ve passed the climbs gives me confidence for more stage wins. The spirit in the team is still very good but at this stage of the Vuelta, the fight is also a mental thing.”

Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) is probably Degenkolb’s most fearful challenger. “I’ve had one very difficult day”, he said. “That was the third consecutive mountain stage of the week-end but after the rest day, my legs respond well. I’ve saved them yesterday for today’s stage. I hope for the best result.

"Degenkolb has demonstrated to be the strongest. That means he has the responsibility of controlling the race but he also has won a lot already, so he can race with little pressure, especially because the green jersey at this year’s Vuelta is not for sprinters. There are very few opportunities left for sprinters, today and on the last day in Madrid. That’s why we’ll contribute if there is some work to be done.”

36km remaining from 204km

Only 36km to go here! The five are still in front but we don't have a time check at the moment.

Here's some good news: Team NetApp-Endura will be in the peloton for two years. Those two teams are combining into one, and will have 20 riders next year.

33km remaining from 204km

Now we have a time gap, of 1:27. That sounds like everything is right on track for a mass sprint finish.

There is a crash, and I am afraid we have some injuries. A RadioShack rider and a Movistar rider are the victims.

Other riders went down but are up again.

The RadioShack rider is Linus Gerdemann and he is only now sitting up again. Of course the team has his bike right there for him to jump back on it...

The Movistar rider is Nairo Quintano, who has done so much for Valverde in this race. He is now getting back on his bike.

Quintana pays a visit to the race doctor's car. No word yet on Gerdemann.

Yesterday was an overwhelming day for Joaquim Rodriguez as well, but in a negative way. He went into the stage feeling relatively assured that he would win this race, but by the end of the day, he had to admit defeat.

29km remaining from 204km

The gap is now down to one minute.

Cofidis attacker Luis Angel Maté, nicknamed “the Andalucian lynx”, said before the start: “I feel that I have the energy for breaking away today. I’ve done it only once during this Vuelta. Last year I did it three times. But I’ve tried a lot. A bunch sprint finish is not granted. At this stage of the Vuelta, many teams are tired. Shall a breakaway be made of four riders or more, there’s a possibility for a stage win.”

Well, there is a break of more than four, and he is in it, but we have our doubts as to whether it will stay away.

We would say now pretty definitely that this group won't get through. With 15 km the gap is at 39 seconds. And who else is leading the peloton but Argos-Shimano.

With 24km to go, Bookwalter attacks out of the lead group.

Valverde was able to respond to Contador's attack, rather belatedly, and even if he couldn't catch his rival, he was able to move up to second place overall.

The lead group is back together, but only 14 seconds ahead of the peloton. The five leaders are naturally not happy with this situation, and are all trying to get away.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step DS Davide Bramati said: “The best sprinter here is for sure John Degenkolb but I still hope for Gert Steegmans to come up with a surprise. He’s coming out of the Vuelta with a very good shape.”

With the peloton breathing down the neck of the leaders, Keizer takes off. The others have been caught and he will be too in a second.

Quintana is back in the field. Still no word on Gerdemann.

The field is in back falling apart. Many riders have fallen off the back. The wind is having its effect.

Katusha at the head of things, with Rodriguez on third wheel. What are they planning?

Now Rodriguez himself at the head of the field. That was too much for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, which promptly sent a rider up in front of him.

Movistar now up at the front. But Saxo Bank is keeping a close eye on things. They won't let anyone get away as their captain did yesterday.

We now hear that Gerdemann has had to abandon the race.

Much moving around at the head of the field, now an Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider there.

In case you have wondered just how Contador accomplished his feat yesterday, here is the explanation.

10km remaining from 204km

Only ten km to go.

This first group is about, hm, 40-50 riders? But all the big names are in there.

Sky taking its turn at the lead work.

They are moving fast: 88 km/h!

6.5km to go and a Katusha rider taks off. Or was that just for the intermediate sprint?

Just for the sprint. Katusha didn't want Degenkolb to pick up any points.

Sky still driving the field, setting a very high pace.

Looks like some more riders have caught up with the first group now. They are strung out single file, flying along.

Less than 3 km to go now, and no change. Sky still at the head.

2km remaining from 204km

The peloton moves into downtown Vallodolid.  Time to start setting up that sprint.

Last km!

Orica Green Edge leads the way!

Bennati and Swift fight it out. Swift was the first to go, at 200 m, but the Italian came up fast.

A small gap formed, with about 6 riders in the first group. Degenkolb got caught in the wrong group and had no chance.

Photo finish! Perhaps Bennati took it?

Yes, the Italian takes it by the narrowest of margins!

We are still waiting for official confirmation, but it looks pretty sure to be Bennati first, Swift second. We don't have third place yet.

And just as we say that: third place goes to Allan Davis of Orica-GreenEdge. Degenkolb gets fifth place.

That is only Bennati's first win of the year. It took a while, but he got it!

It was not his first Vuelta stage win, though. He has now won a total of four individual stages and two team time trial stages.

Here are our top ten finishers on the stage:

1  Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan  4:17:17  
2  Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling  0:00:01  
3  Allan Davis (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge      
4  Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale      
5  John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano      
6  Davide Vigano (Ita) Lampre - ISD      
7  Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank Cycling Team      
8  Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano      
9  Mitchell Docker (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge      
10  Grégory Rast (Swi) Radioshack-Nissan  0:00:06

And the GC:

GC top 10:
[9/6/12 5:06:33 PM] Peter Hymas: 1  Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank  72:25:21  
2  Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team  0:01:52  
3  Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team  0:02:28  
4  Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling  0:09:40  
5  Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team  0:11:36  
6  Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  0:12:02  
7  Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team  0:12:55  
8  Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp  0:13:06  
9  Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  0:13:49  
10  Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team  0:14:10

We still have three stages to go, and yes, there is some climbing involved.  So be sure to read along with us the next few days.

And of course thanks for being there today.

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