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Vuelta a España 2015: Stage 18

Live coverage of stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana, 204 kilometres from Roa to Riaza.

150km remaining from 204km

As we pick up the action with 150 kilometres remaining, lone escapee Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) is up the road, albeit with a lead of just 19 seconds over the peloton.

There has been a rapid start to proceedings today and the bunch has covered a leg-stinging 50.4 kilometres in the first hour of racing, as attack after attack rattled off the front. At one point, some 52 riders had forged clear, only for the Giant-Alpecin squad of race leader Tom Dumoulin to restore some semblance of order.

148km remaining from 204km

This stage is still some way from settling down. Hansen has been joined by 24 others off the front of the bunch, but Giant-Alpecin will surely not want to allow such an unwieldy group to go clear.

Just three seconds separate Dumoulin from second-placed Fabio Aru (Astana) at the head of the overall standings, while Joaquim Rodriguez (3rd at 1:15) and even Movistart duo Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde (both around 3 minutes back) linger with intent, hence the prevailing atmosphere of tension.

The general classification was as follows at the start today:

1 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 68:40:36
2 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:03
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:15
4 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:02:22
5 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:02:53
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:15
7 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica GreenEdge 0:03:30
8 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:03:46
9 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky 0:04:10
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka 0:06:51

There were no fewer than five non-starters following yesterday's time trial in Burgos, including Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), who has endured a rather wretched 2015 campaign all told. The others to call a halt to their Vueltas this morning were Peter Velits (BMC), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Soudal) Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) and Worlds dangerman Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step).

Terpstra reportedly* stormed out of the 2014 Dutch rider of the year ceremony in disgust after being beaten to the gong by Tom Dumoulin last winter (*reports may have been slightly exaggerated), and was probably unlikely to form part of any alliance to help Dumoulin become the first Dutch Grand Tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk landed the 1980 Tour de France. LottoNL-Jumbo, on the other hand, were falling over themselves to offer their help, only for Giant-Alpecin directeur sportif Addy Engels to promptly insist that his team couldn't possibly accept...

143km remaining from 204km

Meanwhile, the 25 riders off the front have been given their head. With no Astana riders among their number, Giant-Alpecin have opted to let the break go, hoping, no doubt, that they can stay clear and hoover up all of the bonus seconds on offer this afternoon.

The 25 escapees with a lead of 3:40 over the peloton are: Nicolas Roche (Sky), Sebastien Minard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), José Gonçalves, Ángel Madrazo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Cyril Lemoine, Dominique Rollin (Cofidis), Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick Step), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ), Simon Pellaud, Vicente Reynés (IAM Cycling), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Bart De Clercq, Adam Hansen, Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), André Cardoso (Cannondale-Garmin), Jerome Cousin, Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Tim Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Daniele Bennati, Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek).

Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) had been attempting to bridge across to the escapees, but his effort was snuffed out by Giant-Alpecin, who clearly don't want Valverde and Quintana to have too much support up the road.

137km remaining from 204km

The best-placed rider on GC in the break is Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), who is 14th overall at 13:38, hence the lack of urgency in the main peloton. Giant-Alpecin sit on the front and set a steady tempo, 4:33 down on the 25 leaders.

130km remaining from 204km

As the break's advantage stretches out to six minutes, Giant-Alpecin are joined on the front of the peloton by MTN-Qhubeka, who are perhaps eager to prevent De Clercq from leapfrogging 10th place Louis Meintjes in the overall standings.

Meintjes, of course, will not be at MTN-Qhubeka next season, having opted to join Lampre-Merida for 2016. The Italian squad is managed, of course, by fellow South African Brent Copeland, formerly part of the MTN-Qhubeka set-up. Sadhbh O'Shea has the MTN-Qhubeka reaction to Meintjes' decision to leave for Lampre.

125km remaining from 204km

The 25 escapees on the first of the day's three categorised climbs, the 7.8km-long Alto Santibanez de Ayllon, a category 3 ascent. The Alto del Campanario, also category 3, follows, while the finale sees the race tackle the 10km-long, category 1 Puerto de la Quesera. The summit is just a testing 13-kilometre plunge from the finish line in Riaza...

122km remaining from 204km

Angel Madrazo (Caa Rural) leads Zubeldia and Hansen over the top of the Alto Santibáñez de Ayllón. The peloton is 5:33 behind.

Tom Dumoulin is, by any metric, an unexpected leader of the Vuelta a Espana at this juncture, but this has been a race of surprises. Fabio Aru, for instance, defended himself better than expected in yesterday's Burgos time trial. "Three seconds down overall isn't bad at all," Aru

.

108km remaining from 204km

The pace has dropped since that high-octane start to the stage, though the tempo remains brisk. After two hours of action on increasingly rugged terrain, the average speed is just shy of 44kph. The 25 leaders are 5:40 clear of the peloton.

The 25 escapees are on the Alto del Campanario, still defending a lead of almost six minutes over the peloton.

100km remaining from 204km

Madrazo leads the break over the top of the Alto del Campanario and into the final 100 kilometres of the stage with a lead of some six minutes over the peloton.

Meanwhile, MTN-Qhubeka continue to be a most useful ally of circumstance for Giant-Alpecin. The South African squad is setting the pace at the head of the peloton and keeping the break's lead tabbed at around the six-minute mark.

86km remaining from 204km

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) was among those struggle to hold the pace during the frantic opening stanza of this stage, and lavuelta.com reports that the Frenchman - who will race for Cannondale-Garmin next year - has dropped back to the race doctor's car behind the peloton.

There's scarcely a metre of flat in the second half of this stage, and while tomorrow and Saturday's stages might be more obviously demanding, there is ample terrain for an ambush this afternoon, particularly when Dumoulin leads by just 3 seconds.

83km remaining from 204km

The day's lone intermediate sprint comes in Campillejo in around 35 kilometres, so Dumoulin will at least avoid being called into action there. With a lead of six minutes, the break will surely mop up the bonus seconds on offer.

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76km remaining from 204km

You can always depend on the kindness of strangers... MTN-Qhubeka remain in control at the front of the peloton and the South African outfit has trimmed the break's lead to 5:30. As yet there has been no movement from Astana, but Aru and company will surely look to test Dumoulin's resolve on the Puerto de la Quesera.

70km remaining from 204km

The break's lead drops further as the race enters the final 70 kilometres. Thanks to MTN-Qhubeka's ongoing efforts, the gap has now dipped below five minutes.

67km remaining from 204km

Despite its unwieldy size, the break is collaborating quite well, particularly given that they're racing on heavy, twisting roads that don't naturally lend themselves to forming a cohesive pace line.

Giant-Alpecin have a trio of riders near the front of the peloton, but the bulk of the pace-making continues to be performed by MTN-Qhubeka. A delegation from Astana is massed around Aru a little further back.

62km remaining from 204km

There is a decided sense of a calm before the storm here. MTN-Qhubeka continue to work diligently on the front and control the break's lead, but a concerted offensive from Astana - not to mention Movistar, Katusha and Tinkoff-Saxo - is surely imminent.

Pawel Poljanski performed very impressively in support of Rafal Majka on Monday and the Pole is a real dangerman from this break - provided, of course, that team orders don't force him to wait for his leader. With the gap still a healthy five minutes, it seems unlikely for now.

56km remaining from 204km

There are three Lotto Soudal riders in this break, and Adam Hansen has been particularly generous in his efforts, as the team looks to help De Clercq edge towards the top ten on general classification.

55km remaining from 204km

The first statement of intent from Astana. A delegation in light blue led by Andrey Zeits hits the front of the peloton and the pace picks up accordingly.

Astana's injection of urgency quickly knocks a handful of seconds off the break's lead. The gap now stands at 4:45. A line of Movistar riders has also moved up to keep a watching brief on Astana's activities.

51km remaining from 204km

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) remains well-placed near the head of the field, tucked in just behind the Astana delegation, as the road climbs and dips. Joaquim Rodriguez, too, is surrounded by a phalanx of Katusha teammates.

48km remaining from 204km

The leaders pass through the intermediate sprint in Campillejo with a lead of five minutes over the peloton.

46km remaining from 204km

The category 1 Puerto de la Quesera is still more than 20 kilometres away, but there will be precious little respite from here on in. The peloton face undulating, heavy roads all the way to the base of the climb, and Astana's pace has stiffened still further.

Speaking before the Vuelta began, Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli suggested to Cyclingnews that the strongest rider would emerge in the second week of the race, but having the strongest team would prove crucial in the final week. He will hope those words are prescient: on paper, certainly, Aru has a markedly stronger supporting cast than Dumoulin has at Giant-Alpecin.

41km remaining from 204km

Astana's tempo continues to rise and the break's lead has been slashed to four minutes. The stage victory will not necessarily fall to a member of the 25-strong escape at this rate.

39km remaining from 204km

Astana's efforts have stretched the peloton out and they continue to make inroads into the break's advantage. The deficit is down to 3:40.

35km remaining from 204km

Angel Vicioso (Katusha) attacks from the main peloton and sets off in pursuit of the escapees. Astana continue the softening up process in the bunch, meanwhile, pegging the gap back to 3:17.

34km remaining from 204km

On an uncategorised climb, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) shoots out of the peloton and bridges across to Vicioso. Astana react immediately, however...

Dario Cataldo nudges the pace up a notch and calmly brings Rodriguez and Vicioso back. The bomb is diffused but the tension remains in the peloton...

33km remaining from 204km

Further up this uncategorised climb, Tosh Van Der Sande (Lotto Soudal) sets the pace in the break, which is now just under three minutes ahead.

Vicioso, meanwhile, has been jettisoned out the back of the bunch, which is still led by Astana. Rodriguez has taken his place alongside Dumoulin, Valverde, Quintana, Majka and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), tucked in behind the Astana train.

32km remaining from 204km

Astana's pace-making is begin to whittle down the peloton quite significantly on this increasingly rugged preamble to the category 1 Puerto de la Quesera.

31km remaining from 204km

The break's lead is down to just 2:30, but despite the precariousness of their situation, their unity remains intact for now.

29km remaining from 204km

An acceleration from Cyril Gautier (Europcar) on a sharp rise stretches the break, with Daniele Bennati among those struggling to match the pace. Their lead is down to just 2:13.

29km remaining from 204km

An acceleration from Cyril Gautier (Europcar) on a sharp rise stretches the break, with Daniele Bennati among those struggling to match the pace. Their lead is down to just 2:13.

29km remaining from 204km

An acceleration from Cyril Gautier (Europcar) on a sharp rise stretches the break, with Daniele Bennati among those struggling to match the pace. Their lead is down to just 2:13.

27km remaining from 204km

Gautier continues with his effort and forges clear alone while the rest of the break fragments behind him.

The Puerto de la Quesera hasn't begun in earnest but the selection has been formed on this stiff rise before it. Gautier is alone in front, with Darwin Atapuma (BMC) on the cusp of bridging across. A sizeable group featuring Nicolas Roche (Sky) is a little further back, while others including Songezo Jim, Cyrile Lemoine and Vicente Reynes have been irretrievably dropped.

At the head of the peloton, Mikel Landa turns over a big gear as he rides in support of Fabio Aru.

24km remaining from 204km

Gautier looks set to begin the final climb alone. Atapuma, meanwhile, is at the head of a chasing group of around ten riders, 21 seconds back.

22km remaining from 204km

As the Puerto de la Quesera gets underway, Atapuma again looks to lead a group of chasers across to Gautier. Astana continue to lead the dwindling peloton.

There is precious little by way of cohesion in the sizeable chasing group, and Gautier's advantage is holding steady at 23 seconds. The peloton is 2:01 down on the Frenchman.

19km remaining from 204km

There are still around 40 riders or so in the red jersey group. Astana lead, with Dumoulin, Aru, Majka, Rodriguez, Valverde and Quintana all present and correct.

19km remaining from 204km

Fabio Aru accelerates on the front of the red jersey group, but Dumoulin is immediately on his wheel.

Rodriguez, Valverde, Quintana and Majka are all lined up behind Aru and Dumoulin.

Aru kicks again and this time only Dumoulin can follow. The first and second-placed rider on GC open a small gap over the rest of the overall contenders.

Majka, Quintana, Valverde and Chaves bridge across and immediately, Aru accelerates for a third time. Yet again, Dumoulin deals comfortably with the acceleration. A frustrated Aru sits up, unable to snap the elastic.

Alejandro Valvede is the next man to try his luck, but the Spaniard isn't able to get away. Aru, Rodriguez, Dumoulin, QUintana, Valverde, Chaves, Majka and Louis Meintjes are now the members of this very select red jersey group.

18km remaining from 204km

Majka, Quintana, Valverde and Chaves bridge across and immediately, Aru accelerates for a third time. Yet again, Dumoulin deals comfortably with the acceleration. A frustrated Aru sits up, unable to snap the elastic.

Esteban Chaves is the next man up. The Colombian opens a small gap over the red jersey group and Valverde bridges across. They are just ahead of Aru, Dumoulin et al on the road.

While all that was going on in the red jersey group, Nicolas Roche (Sky) has inched his way up to Cyril Gautier and gone past him. The Irishman is alone at the front of the race.

Dumoulin remains locked tightly to Aru's rear wheel. The red jersey group has caught Valverde and Chaves once again. Rodriguez, Mikel Nieve, Rafal Majka, Louis Meintjes and Quintana are the other members of the group.

16km remaining from 204km

Aru resumes his onslaught. The Sardinian launches his fourth attack but he still can't shake Dumoulin, who hasn't given up an inch so far this afternoon.

15km remaining from 204km

A brief lull follows Aru's latest attack and Mikel Nieve takes advantage of the drop in pace to jump clear of the red jersey group.

14km remaining from 204km

Out in front, meanwhile, Haimar Zubeldia has clawed his way back up to Nicolas Roche. They have 40 seconds in hand on the few survivors from the early break. Nieve is at 1:05, while the red jersey group is at 1:25.

Tom Dumoulin has been unflappable thus far in the face of Aru's repeated attacking, though one senses the onslaught is far from complete.

13km remaining from 204km

Right on cue, Aru responds to an acceleration from Valverde with an attack of his own - his fifth thus far - but again Dumoulin is locked onto his rear wheel.

Rinse and repeat. Valverde accelerate, Aru reponds, Dumoulin follows. The rest of the red jersey group bridges back up to them almost immediately afterwards. Deadlock.

13km remaining from 204km

Haimar Zubeldia and Nicolas Roche lead over the top of the Puerto de la Quesera with a lead of one minute over the red jersey group.

José Gonçalve (Caja Rural), incidentally, is the closest pursuer of Roche and Zubeldia, just 23 seconds down.

12km remaining from 204km

The red jersey group crests the summit, with Dumoulin safely tucked in behind Aru. Valverde and Quintana pick up the slack on the descent but no gaps have formed just yet. Nieve, incidentally, was pegged back before the summit and is part of this group once again.

10km remaining from 204km

As Vuelta descents go, this is, by all accounts, a relatively straightforward one. But this is, as Alex Ferguson would say, squeaky bum time at the Vuelta, and anything is possible as the red jersey group hurtles down into Riaza.

Valverde is the man pushing on the pace on the descent. Dumoulin is happy to follow and stay as close to Aru as possible.

7km remaining from 204km

Zubeldia and Roche have 40 seconds in hand on Goncalves and the remnants of the break, and a minute in hand on the red jersey group. Our two leaders should fight out the stage win among themselves.

6km remaining from 204km

Aru has appeared uneasy at times on this descent, occasionally losing the wheel in front of him, but he remains in contact with Dumoulin for now.

5km remaining from 204km

Dumoulin may be aware of Aru's nervousness on this descent, but he will be hard pressed to find the space to launch an attack of his own as the kilometres tick down towards Riaza.

3km remaining from 204km

The red jersey group has picked up the remnants of the early break. Zubeldia and Roche are still out in front, 1:02 clear.

The road kicks up slightly at the base of the descent, and - inevitably - Aru launches another acceleration, but he is unable to discommode Dumoulin.

3km remaining from 204km

Dumoulin comes to the front as the road flattens out and drops again. He briefly opens the throttle in a bid to distance Aru, before desisting.

2km remaining from 204km

Roche and Zubeldia enter the final two kilometres with 45 seconds in hand on the chasers.

The red jersey group looks likely to contest third place on the stage - the sprint for the bonus seconds will be very interesting indeed.

1km remaining from 204km

Zubeldia leads Roche into the final kilometre. Roche ought to be the quicker in a sprint...

Zubeldia manages to nudge Roche into the front ahead of the two-up sprint...

Roche opens the sprint...

Nicolas Roche (Sky) wins stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana from Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing).

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wins the sprint for third place on the stage. Dumoulin finishes safely alongside Fabio Aru and will retain the red jersey by 3 seconds from the Astana man.

A disappointed Aru pedals through the finish area and ignores requests from television crews to offer his thoughts on the day's proceedings. He will have to be inventive if he is to unseat Dumoulin - the Dutchman never appeared undully troubled by his attacks on the final climb this afternoon.

In fact, Jose Goncalves managed to hold on for third place on the stage, 18 seconds down on Roche. Whether he knew it or not, Valverde ultimately won the sprint for fourth place.

Result:

1 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sky 5:03:59
2 Hamiar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing
3 José Gonçalves (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:00:18
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:38
5 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica GreenEdge
6 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
7 Pieter Serry (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
8 Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Soudal
9 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
 

General classification:

1 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 73:45:13
2 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:03
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:15
4 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:02:22
5 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:02:53
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:15
7 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica GreenEdge 0:03:30
8 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:03:46
9 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky 0:04:10
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka 0:06:51

Nicolas Roche paid tribute to the collaboration from Zubeldia in the finale. "The two of us were very good to cooperate from 15k to go and I think that was our only chance," he said. "Coming into the sprint, I wanted to lead it out because Haimar has a lot of experience. I’ve lost sprints to him in the past at San Sebastian so I wanted to manage it for myself and lead it out. I didn’t want to put my hands up until I crossed the line."

Red jersey Tom Dumoulin, meanwhile, descends from the podium and admits that he was not unduly put out by Aru's volley of attacks on the final climb. "There are three hard days coming up but we’ve survived the first one and it was a good day," Dumoulin says. "Aru tried very hard today but I actually was never in trouble and after his first attack I knew I would keep the red jersey today."

Thanks for joining our live coverage this afternoon. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, while our man in Spain Alasdair Fotheringham will have all the news and reaction from Riaza. And, as ever, we'll be back with more live coverage on Cyclingnews tomorrow, as the Vuelta heads towards a striking stage finish in Avila.

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