Vuelta a Espana: Armee wins stage 18

The momentum is once again with Chris Froome (Team Sky) at the Vuelta a España after he distanced Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) on the short final climb to Alto de Santo Toribio de Liébana on stage 18 to extend his lead atop the overall standings to 1:37.

Froome and Nibali were part of the red jersey group that reached the finale more than ten minutes down on stage winner Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal), who had proved the strongest of the day's early break.

After a volley of attacks from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) on the penultimate ascent of Collada de la Hoz had sown plenty of tension but failed to separate the podium contenders, few anticipated any major differences to be made on the final category 2 kick to the line.

Not for the first time on this Vuelta, however, Froome's Sky guard laid down an imposing rhythm on the final climb, with Gianni Moscon once again delivering a show of strength that was all the more startling considering he is a 23-year-old Classics specialist in the third week of his debut Grand Tour.

Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) were among the riders distanced approaching the flamme rouge as the pace began to bite, and Froome proceeded to deliver a rasping acceleration of his own once teammate Wout Poels swung over inside the final kilometre.

Only Contador and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) could match Froome's surge as the group of podium contenders splintered behind him, and while Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) responded well to limit their losses to just four seconds at the finish, Nibali was in obvious difficulty and pedalling with leaden strokes.

Nibali, so impressive in distancing Froome on the vertiginous slopes of Los Machucos on Wednesday, handed back precisely half of those gains on the rather gentler ascent of Santo Toribio de Liébana, and has left himself with a considerably more arduous path to final overall victory in Madrid on Sunday. The Italian must drop Froome decisively on the Angliru on Saturday, an ascent where the severity of the gradient paradoxically can make it more difficult to eke out sizeable gains.

"Today worked out perfectly in my favour. It was a really tough stage. A lot of GC guys tried to attack on the penultimate climb, so once we got onto that final climb the team did a really strong pace at the bottom, and I think certainly some guys paid for their efforts yesterday and also paid for their attacks earlier on today," said Froome.

Armee's solo triumph

As is so often the case in the third week of a Grand Tour, there were two races for the price of one on stage 18 of the Vuelta, as a 20-man break forged clear after a little over an hour of racing and fought it out for stage victory, while Froome, Nibali et al traded blows in the battle for GC honours further down the road.

The stage winner Sander Armee was part of the high-quality move that established itself after 60 kilometres, and he was joined in that endeavour by Julian Alaphilippe and Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott), Nelson Oliveira and Marc Soler (Movistar), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Clément Chevrier and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale), Toms Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac), Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Jérémy Maison and Anthony Roux (FDJ), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), and Aldemar Reyes (Manzana-Postobón).

They were granted a long leash by Team Sky, and had built up a lead in excess of 13 minutes by the time they hit the day's first classified climb, the category 3 Collada de Carmona after 109 kilometres. In a foretaste of what was to come, Alaphilippe inexplicably lost contact on the descent that followed, but was safely back aboard come the second ascent of the Collada de Ozalba, where the leading group remained intact.

Their unity eventually fragmented on the category 2 Collada de la Hoz, Gougeard and Sander Armee forced the pace, and they were joined by Alaphilippe, Soler, and Lutsenko closer to the summit. This quintet battled to maintain a small advantage over their erstwhile companions as they hurtled down the descent with 30 kilometres remaining, and was reduced to a leading trio by the time they reached the bottom, with only Armee, Lutsenko and Alaphilippe remaining in front.

Lutsenko and Alaphilippe, already stage winners at this Vuelta, would have been more highly fancied than Armee on a finish of this kind, but the Belgian cannily rid of himself of his companions in two installments in the finale. Sensing Alaphilippe's fatigue, Armee accelerated on the approach to the final, 3-kilometre climb to the line and found an ally of circumstance in Lutsenko, who put in a long turn of his own to ensure the Frenchman would not latch back on.

The seated Lutsenko seemed rather more fluid of pedal stroke once the climb to the line began, but appearances proved deceptive. Armee spent most of the climb out of the saddle, and he succeeded in shaking off Lutsenko with a shade over 600 metres remaining to claim the first victory of his professional career, 31 seconds clear of the Kazakhstani, while Visconti took third at 46 seconds.

"This is already my eighth year as a pro rider, so I had to wait quite a long time to win a race. I was a couple of times close, and I did my work for the team, but in this Vuelta, I got a chance to put myself in a free role and do my own race," Armee said. "This was the third time I am in a breakaway, and I felt really good. I felt better and better during the stage, and then in the end I knew I would be close and I went full gas to the finish line. I tried to just do my own pace the last few minutes, and I never came off the big chainring, so I knew if I could do that I could win the race."

Aru's lone raid

While Armee, Lutsenko et al were attempting to out-maneuver one another for the stage victory, the teams of the podium contenders were looking to place their men in position ahead of the day's denouement. Katusha-Alpecin's forcing on Collada de Ozalba was such that at one point, five of their riders, including Zakarin, opened a gap over the peloton, but by the top of the climb, it was Fabio Aru (Astana) who was on the offensive.

The Italian champion has endured a difficult Vuelta, and it was reported in La Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday that his Astana team had even neglected to fit his bike with the 36-tooth chainring he had requested for the climb to Los Machucos on stage 17. Aru, seemingly destined to leave the team at season's end, looked to put a different slant on his Vuelta with a lone attack from distance, and at one point he looked set to move from 9th to 6th overall – or better – when he built up a lead of more than a minute and a half on the red jersey group.

Aru's advantage was pared back only on the final run-in to the finish line as Team Sky wound up the pace, and his gains were limited by day's end, as he finished just 14 seconds clear of Froome, Contador and Woods.

If Froome had shown little concern about Aru's solo effort, he was considerably more active in following Contador's brace of attacks on the category 2 Collada de la Hoz. The second of Contador's stinging attacks near the summit briefly reduced the red jersey group to just 10 riders, but Froome was among the first to respond, with Nibali, Kelderman, and Zakarin following in his wake.

They were unable to follow, however, in the final 800 metres, and Froome could scarcely hide his satisfaction at putting so much time into Nibali. "Yeah, I mean that feels great. That feels great especially after a difficult day yesterday," he said. "It's good to bounce back again, and as I said yesterday, the morale is still good and the team is still strong. We're just looking forward to getting through these next couple of days now."

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal4:09:39
2Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:00:31
3Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:00:46
4Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:02
5Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:06
6Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:01:19
7Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors0:01:21
8Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 7 - Cell 2
9Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:01:38
10Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ0:01:42
11Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe0:01:57
12Aldemar Reyes (Col) Manzana Postobon0:02:02
13Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors0:02:20
14Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates0:02:49
15Stéphane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:03:26
16Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team0:03:41
17Toms Skujins (Lat) Cannondale-Drapac0:03:57
18Jeremy Maison (Fra) FDJ0:04:14
19Clement Chevrier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:09:31
20Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:09:56
21Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo0:10:08
22Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-DrapacRow 21 - Cell 2
23Christopher Froome (GBr) Team SkyRow 22 - Cell 2
24Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb0:10:12
25Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 24 - Cell 2
26Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky0:10:15
27Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:10:21
28Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:10:29
29David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step FloorsRow 28 - Cell 2
30Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates0:10:37
31Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team0:10:45
32Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) FDJ0:10:50
33Hernán Aguirre (Col) Manzana Postobon0:10:52
34Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team0:10:54
35Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott0:10:59
36Magnus Cort (Den) Orica-ScottRow 35 - Cell 2
37Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates0:11:05
38Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team0:11:17
39Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-Scott0:11:19
40Antonio Pedrero (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 39 - Cell 2
41Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team0:11:39
42Luis León Sánchez (Spa) Astana Pro Team0:11:44
43Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro TeamRow 42 - Cell 2
44Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky0:11:50
45Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky0:12:02
46Stef Clement (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:12:15
47Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 46 - Cell 2
48Luis Angel Maté Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:12:23
49Jaime Roson Garcia (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA0:12:30
50Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:12:46
51Peter Stetina (USA) Trek-Segafredo0:12:52
52Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spa) Bahrain-Merida0:13:34
53Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 52 - Cell 2
54Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb0:14:42
55David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Team Sky0:14:54
56Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Orica-ScottRow 55 - Cell 2
57Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo0:19:38
58Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Dimension DataRow 57 - Cell 2
59Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 58 - Cell 2
60Bernardo Suaza (Col) Manzana PostobonRow 59 - Cell 2
61Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step FloorsRow 60 - Cell 2
62Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team EmiratesRow 61 - Cell 2
63Kenneth Van Bilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 62 - Cell 2
64Anthony Perez (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 63 - Cell 2
65Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Trek-SegafredoRow 64 - Cell 2
66Joe Dombrowski (USA) Cannondale-Drapac0:19:41
67Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky0:20:15
68Matvey Mamykin (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 67 - Cell 2
69Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo0:24:47
70Juan Felipe Osorio (Col) Manzana PostobonRow 69 - Cell 2
71Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 70 - Cell 2
72Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto SoudalRow 71 - Cell 2
73Lluís Guillermo Mas Bonet (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 72 - Cell 2
74Jelle Wallays (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 73 - Cell 2
75Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 74 - Cell 2
76Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto SoudalRow 75 - Cell 2
77Bert-Jan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 76 - Cell 2
78Anthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 77 - Cell 2
79Koen de Kort (Ned) Trek-SegafredoRow 78 - Cell 2
80Francisco Ventoso (Spa) BMC Racing TeamRow 79 - Cell 2
81Floris De Tier (Bel) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 80 - Cell 2
82Jetse Bol (Ned) Manzana PostobonRow 81 - Cell 2
83Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-DrapacRow 82 - Cell 2
84Stefan Denifl (Aut) Aqua Blue SportRow 83 - Cell 2
85Brendan Canty (Aus) Cannondale-DrapacRow 84 - Cell 2
86Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step FloorsRow 85 - Cell 2
87Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Trek-SegafredoRow 86 - Cell 2
88Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team SunwebRow 87 - Cell 2
89Chris Hamilton (Aus) Team SunwebRow 88 - Cell 2
90Fabricio Ferrari (Uru) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 89 - Cell 2
91Juan José Lobato (Spa) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 90 - Cell 2
92Damiano Caruso (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 91 - Cell 2
93Chad Haga (USA) Team SunwebRow 92 - Cell 2
94Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Katusha-AlpecinRow 93 - Cell 2
95Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar TeamRow 94 - Cell 2
96Ricardo Vilela (Por) Manzana PostobonRow 95 - Cell 2
97Diego Rosa (Ita) Team SkyRow 96 - Cell 2
98Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar TeamRow 97 - Cell 2
99Davide Villella (Ita) Cannondale-DrapacRow 98 - Cell 2
100Daan Olivier (Ned) Team LottoNL-JumboRow 99 - Cell 2
101Eros Capecchi (Ita) Quick-Step FloorsRow 100 - Cell 2
102Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) UAE Team EmiratesRow 101 - Cell 2
103Daniel Hoelgaard (Nor) FDJRow 102 - Cell 2
104Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 103 - Cell 2
105Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 104 - Cell 2
106Nicholas Schultz (Aus) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 105 - Cell 2
107Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 106 - Cell 2
108Mark Christian (GBr) Aqua Blue SportRow 107 - Cell 2
109Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 108 - Cell 2
110Hector Sáez Benito (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 109 - Cell 2
111Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-HansgroheRow 110 - Cell 2
112Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-HansgroheRow 111 - Cell 2
113Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Trek-SegafredoRow 112 - Cell 2
114Remy Mertz (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 113 - Cell 2
115Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-ScottRow 114 - Cell 2
116Hernando Bohórquez (Col) Manzana PostobonRow 115 - Cell 2
117Sergei Chernetckii (Rus) Astana Pro TeamRow 116 - Cell 2
118Sam Bewley (NZl) Orica-ScottRow 117 - Cell 2
119Tim Declercq (Bel) Quick-Step FloorsRow 118 - Cell 2
120Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) UAE Team EmiratesRow 119 - Cell 2
121Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro TeamRow 120 - Cell 2
122Rein Taaramäe (Est) Katusha-AlpecinRow 121 - Cell 2
123Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step FloorsRow 122 - Cell 2
124Federico Zurlo (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 123 - Cell 2
125Michel Kreder (Ned) Aqua Blue SportRow 124 - Cell 2
126David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 125 - Cell 2
127Julien Duval (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 126 - Cell 2
128Fernando Orjuela (Col) Manzana PostobonRow 127 - Cell 2
129Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La MondialeRow 128 - Cell 2
130Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 129 - Cell 2
131Nikita Stalnov (Kaz) Astana Pro TeamRow 130 - Cell 2
132Sebastián Molano (Col) Manzana PostobonRow 131 - Cell 2
133Diego Rubio (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGARow 132 - Cell 2
134Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Cannondale-DrapacRow 133 - Cell 2
135Peter Koning (Ned) Aqua Blue SportRow 134 - Cell 2
136Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra) FDJRow 135 - Cell 2
137Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 136 - Cell 2
138Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Aqua Blue SportRow 137 - Cell 2
139Christian Knees (Ger) Team SkyRow 138 - Cell 2
140Aaron Gate (NZl) Aqua Blue SportRow 139 - Cell 2
141Manuele Boaro (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 140 - Cell 2
142Maxim Belkov (Rus) Katusha-AlpecinRow 141 - Cell 2
143Antonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-MeridaRow 142 - Cell 2
144Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) FDJRow 143 - Cell 2
145Jacques Janse van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension DataRow 144 - Cell 2
146Lachlan Morton (Aus) Dimension DataRow 145 - Cell 2
147Loic Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing TeamRow 146 - Cell 2
148Arnaud Courteille (Fra) FDJRow 147 - Cell 2
149Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-ScottRow 148 - Cell 2
150Michael Mørkøv (Den) Katusha-AlpecinRow 149 - Cell 2
151Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-HansgroheRow 150 - Cell 2
152Adam Blythe (GBr) Aqua Blue SportRow 151 - Cell 2
153Thomas Scully (NZl) Cannondale-DrapacRow 152 - Cell 2
154Sacha Modolo (Ita) UAE Team EmiratesRow 153 - Cell 2
155Conor Dunne (Irl) Aqua Blue SportRow 154 - Cell 2
156Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-ScottRow 155 - Cell 2
157Domen Novak (Slo) Bahrain-MeridaRow 156 - Cell 2
158William Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-DrapacRow 157 - Cell 2
159Ian Stannard (GBr) Team SkyRow 158 - Cell 2
160Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-AlpecinRow 159 - Cell 2
161Rafael Reis (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA0:25:24
DNSMaxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto SoudalRow 161 - Cell 2
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Intermediate sprint - Sobrelapeña, km. 132.7
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors4pts
2Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates2Row 1 - Cell 3
3Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team1Row 2 - Cell 3
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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal25pts
2Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team20Row 1 - Cell 3
3Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida16Row 2 - Cell 3
4Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale14Row 3 - Cell 3
5Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team12Row 4 - Cell 3
6Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team10Row 5 - Cell 3
7Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors9Row 6 - Cell 3
8Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA8Row 7 - Cell 3
9Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo7Row 8 - Cell 3
10Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ6Row 9 - Cell 3
11Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe5Row 10 - Cell 3
12Aldemar Reyes (Col) Manzana Postobon4Row 11 - Cell 3
13Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors3Row 12 - Cell 3
14Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates2Row 13 - Cell 3
15Stéphane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits1Row 14 - Cell 3
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Mountain 1 (Cat. 3) Collada de Carmona, km. 109.5
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team3pts
2Toms Skujins (Lat) Cannondale-Drapac2Row 1 - Cell 3
3Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo1Row 2 - Cell 3
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Mountain 2 (Cat. 3) Collada de Ozalba, km. 126
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team3pts
2Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors2Row 1 - Cell 3
3Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team1Row 2 - Cell 3
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Mountain 3 (Cat. 2) Collada de la Hoz, km. 139.7
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team5pts
2Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale3Row 1 - Cell 3
3Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal1Row 2 - Cell 3
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Mountain 4 (Cat. 3) Alto de Santo Toribio de Liébana, km. 169
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
1Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal3pts
2Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team2Row 1 - Cell 3
3Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida1Row 2 - Cell 3
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#Rider Name (Country) Team
1Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
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