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Vuelta a España 2014: Stage 18


Live coverage of stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, 157 kilometres from A Estrada to Monte Castrove.

There is just one climb on the agenda this afternoon, but the peloton will tackle it twice. They first reach the summit of the category 2 Alto Monte Castrove (7km at 7%) with 24 kilometres remaining, then loop around and climb it again. The finish line comes 700 downhill metres after the top of the climb.

There were three non-starters today. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen have both left the Vuelta to fine-tune their preparations for the world championships in Ponferrada, while

Gesink was lying seventh overall so his withdrawal means that Dani Navarro moves into the top ten. The provisional general classification is as follows:

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The peloton's intact state should not be mistaken for a lack of activity, of course. Jesse Sergeant (Trek) led a group of nine riders clear inside the opening kilometres but a determined pursuit from Lotto-Belisol pegged them back and drove the speed up accordingly.

News is reaching us of a fourth non-starter on today's stage, incidentally. Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) has also withdrawn from the Vuelta. There are 165 riders left in the race for the final four days on the camino to Santiago.

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Movistar, however, seem in no mood to allow a break go clear, at least without a representative. They have pegged back Le Bon and the (searingly fast) stalemate continues.

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Crucially, Movistar's Jonathan Castroviejo is in the group on policing duty, as are Katusha's Alberto Losada and Eduard Vorganov, and Sky's Kanstantin Siutsou. Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and Chris Froome are all represented, then, so it seems up to the Tinkoff-Saxo squad of Alberto Contador to decide how to play this.

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A remarkable 50.5 kilometres have been covered in the first hour of racing in the third week of the third grand tour of the season.

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Garmin-Sharp's desire to shut down the break suggests that today's finale might be one for Dan Martin. On paper, the Irishman said at the start, the finish at Monte Castrove suits him, but in practice it might prove difficult to slip away. "Two factors can’t be forgotten: at the end of a Grand Tour, feelings change from one day to another. Yesterday, I wasn’t feeling well, I hope I’ll better today but if not, I don’t think I’ll be able to go for the stage win," he said. "Secondly, my status doesn’t allow me to break away so I have to fight against the likes of Valverde and Purito who need to gain time on GC. It’s been a difficult year for me, also during the Vuelta. I’ve had bad luck, being beaten by Matthews on stage 3 and crashing on the way to Lagos de Covadonga. But that’s cycling.”

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Finally - and mercifully - the pace in the main field has slackened and the break has been given its head. Le Bon, Sanchez and Dupont have a lead of 2:20 over the peloton. The échapée matinale has been established... at 3.10pm local time.

Still only 24 years of age, Le Bon is part of an emerging bloc of young classics riders at He was hugely impressive - and aggressive - at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this spring. Le Bon, incidentally, rented a house in Belgium through the early months of the year in order to familiarise himself with the cobbles and backroads of Flanders.

Hubert Dupont made a dramatic impact at the 2011 Giro d'Italia, riding strongly in support of John Gadret and helping himself to 11th overall in the process. He was back to finish 16th overall in this year's race and was already on the offensive at this Vuelta on he road to Alcaudete in week one.

Alejandro Valverde's Movistar guard continue to keep tabs on affairs at the head of the peloton. They seem reluctant to allow the break's lead to touch the four-minute mark, and they clearly feel that Valverde has a chance to pick up bonus seconds and gain some time on Chris Froome this afternoon.

Cadel Evans has yet to sign a contract for next season and there have been persistent murmurs that he may even be contemplating retirement. At the start this morning, the Australian said that he would make an announcement on his future prior to the world championships in Ponferrada. "My performance has been way below what I wanted but that’s a little bit related to a lot going on in my life and I haven’t been as concentrated as I’d have liked to have been, but anyway it’s coming better now. A bit late, but better late than never,” Evans said of his showing at this Vuelta, where he has been riding in support of Samuel Sanchez.

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Speaking at the start in A Estrada, Chris Froome said that he expected an onslaught from Valverde in the finale this afternoon and conceded that Alberto Contador's hold on the red jersey is most likely to be an enduring one. "On GC, it’ll be very hard to catch Alberto Contador. I expect a bigger fight for second and third places," he said. "Given that it’s not a real mountain at the end, I expect Valverde to try and extend his lead. I don’t know if my increase of form allows me to beat him today. In these circumstances, everyone has good days and bad days.”

Movistar were not exactly the most popular visitors to A Estrada, site of today’s start. The Galician town is the home to 2013 Tour of Portugal winner Alejandro Marque, whose planned move to Movistar fell apart when he tested positive for betamethasone. Although the 32-year-old was ultimately not sanctioned, Movistar opted not to sign him, to the ire of his hometown fans.

Local protests are nothing new at the Vuelta, of course. When the 1995 race visited Aragon, for instance, Mapei incurred the wrath of local fan's upset at Fernando Escartin's omission from their line-up. The climber agreed a deal with Kelme for 1996 in the days leading up to the Vuelta, and was unceremoniously dumped from the team.

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Incidentally, we evoked Fernando Escartin's exclusion from the 1995 Vuelta as a contrast to Nacer Bouhanni's inclusion in FDJ's roster this time around in spite of his switch to Cofidis at the end of the season. FDJ manager Marc Madiot has had a change of heart on Bouhanni's status, however, since reading an interview the Frenchman gave to L'Equipe at the weekend. This morning it emerged that Bouhanni will not race for FDJ again (he abandoned the Vuelta on Saturday) and will have to prepare for the Worlds by training at home instead of riding the Tour du Doubs.

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Luis Leon Sanchez holds a 23-point lead in the king of the mountains competition and can buttress that lead still further if this break stays clear for another 20 kilometres or so. For now, their lead is 2:11.

Luis Leon Sanchez landed at Caja Rural in the winter after Belkin took the step of buying him out of his contract and dispensing with his services due his links to doping investigations in Spain. Next year he will return to the WorldTour with Astana, who yesterday fired Valentin Iglinskiy after he tested positive for EPO at the Eneco Tour.

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Astana and Katusha are also well-represented up there. There is no sign of Alberto Contador for now, though one imagines his Tinkoff-Saxo squad will force its way towards the front in the coming kilometres.

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BMC's Philippe Gilbert was circumspect about his prospects of victory this afternoon. The Belgian has underscored his pre-Worlds form with stage wins in each of his past three Vueltas, in 2010, 2012 and 2013, but he has yet to sparkle at this year's race. "A 7km climb with the top climbers might be a bit long for me," he said at the start.

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Tinkoff-Saxo take up the pace-making in the peloton at the base of the climb, and their efforts have pegged the break's lead back to 15 seconds. Luis Leon Sanchez climbs out of the saddle in a bid to breathe some life into the escapees' efforts.

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Kanstantin Siutsou and Philip Deignan are setting the tempo for Sky at the head of the bunch, and they are unconcerned by Losada and Levarlet's move.

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As expected, the selection in the main field has come from behind on the Alto Monte Castrove. Sky's forcing is whittling down the size of the peloton. Luis Leon Sanchez, meanwhile, retains a lead of 27 seconds as he approaches the summit.

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Losada and Dupont catch and pass Luis Leon Sanchez at the top of the descent. Sanchez takes a baleful look at the pair and sits up to wait for the peloton.

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As the climb starts, Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) jumps clear and Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo) is immediately across.

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Sensing the lull, Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) jumps alone and opens a small gap at the front of the race.

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Froome and Aru will stay clear. Froome powers on the front to try and pad out their advantage. Aru will fancy his chances in the sprint.

Fabio Aru (Astana) wins stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana ahead of Chris Froome.

Rodriguez, Valverde and Contador come in 14 seconds down. Froome will move up to second overall, and his deficit to Contador will be within 1:20 or so once bonuses have been taken into consideration.

Valverde won the sprint for third place, 13 seconds down. Rodriguez was fourth, Contador took fifth. Samuel Sanchez was sixth, 17 seconds down. Warren Barguil and Dan Martin came home in a group 48 seconds down.

Contador's lead over Froome in the general classification is now 1:19. Valverde is third at 1:32.


General classification:

The final climb proved tougher than most had anticipated, a consequence, perhaps of the ferocious pace throughout the day's stage. The top five on the general classification - Contador, Froome, Valverde, Rodriguez and Aru - were the top five on today's stage, and that quintet seemed to have an extra gear to everybody else in the final four kilometres this afternoon.

Alberto Contador was not quite as effervescent as at La Farrapona, and conceded ground to Froome, but still showed no signs that his injury-hit build-up is beginning to take a toll. He remains the strong favourite to close out the race and claim overall victory in Santiago on Sunday, though he will surely face an onslaught from Froome on the Puerto de Ancares on Saturday afternoon.

Thanks for joining our live coverage of the Vuelta this afternoon. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and we'll have all the news and reaction from Galicia here on Cyclingnews.

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