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Vuelta a España stage 18 – live coverage

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Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the possibly pivotal stage 18 of the Vuelta a España. Today the peloton tackle four mountains in the Sierra de Guadarrama in central Spain.

Yesterday's stage 17 was a four-hour, high-speed chase in high winds across central Spain.

Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) took the stage win, his seventh at the race, after a 47-man group broke away from the peloton in the wind-hit opening kilometres of the stage.

Gilbert said afterwards that the stage was like a 220km team time trial. The average speed was similar too, with 50.6kph making it the fastest ever stage or one-day race of over 200km in length.

Here's a reminder of the general classification after stage 17.

With Quintana now recovered from a cold caught while waiting for a ski-lift down the mountain in Andorra after stage 9, can he challenge Roglič today? During the rest day, teammate Alejandro Valverde said of the race leader: "sometimes we've seen him crack at this point in a race." Movistar might just have something up their sleeve today.

Today's stage follows many of the same roads as stage 20 of the 2015 Vuelta a España, tackling the Puerto de Navacerrada and the Puerto de la Morcuera before turning round and tackling them both from the opposite side before the finish.

The Puerto de Navacerrada (11.8km at 6.3 per cent) is a fixture on the Vuelta a España, having been included in 37 editions of the race, with several featuring the climb more than once. Riders such as José Manuel Fuente, Alex Zülle, Tony Rominger and Vincenzo Nibali have led over the top.

Anyway, back to today and the riders have set off in the neutralised zone.

It's a sunny and warm day as the riders head out of Colmenar Viejo. The wind isn't blowing as hard as it was yesterday, though at the moment there's a cross-tailwind up the first two climbs, meaning it's largely a headwind on the final two.

177km remaining from 177km

Here's the latest news from the Vuelta – Miguel Ángel López (Astana) was hit with ten-second time penalty yesterday after receiving a handsling from teammate Jakob Fuglsang.

Martin is pushing the pace early on. No attacks so far...

Now the attacks start.

KOM leader Geoffrey Bouchard is at the rear of the peloton going slowly. He seems to have a mechanical problem.

167km remaining from 177km

Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has a small gap.

Cavagna was third in the Pau time trial and third yesterday.

Cavagna has less than ten seconds on the peloton.

158km remaining from 177km

The trio have 18 seconds on the peloton.

Luis León Sánchez (Astana) tried a move but has been brought back. The riders are approaching the first climb of the day, the Puerto de Navacerrada.

Here's the climb. Numerous riders are attacking on the early slopes.

145km remaining from 177km

Numerous riders are on the attack behind Poels.

KOM leader Bouchard is chasing, along with Hermann Pernsteinter (Bahrain-Merida) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal). A larger group is on the move further back.

Apologies for the delay in posting – we've been suffering some poorly-timed technical issues.

Poels has a 40-second lead as he nears the top of the climb.

136km remaining from 177km

The riders are on a plateau at the top now. The flat road separates the Navacerrada and the Cotos, which is the final climb of the day, so they'll descend down the road they'll be climbing later on.

Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) and Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) are among the attackers on the descent.

Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Mitchelton-Scott) has abanonded the race.

Poels has just 20 seconds on the peloton now.

A group of riders has made it across to Poels now.

115km remaining from 177km

15 seconds between the break and the chasers. 1:30 back to the peloton.

The chase group has caught the leaders. 2:20 back to the peloton.

Pernsteiner is chasing around a minute back.

107km remaining from 177km

105km remaining from 177km

As expected, the Jumbo-Visma team is leading the chase at the head of the peloton. Yesterday Roglic was isolated late on. We'll soon see if the same happens today.

103km remaining from 177km

The peloton has eased up, with Jumbo perhaps happy to let the break go, so they can focus on their GC rivals. This is the quiet before the storm.

92km remaining from 177km

The sprint is on for the KOM. 

Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R La Mondiale) is the first over the top and so he extends his lead in the blue polka-dot jersey competition. 

92km remaining from 177km

The break is in the valley now, diving through the forest roads near Madrid.

81km remaining from 177km

Other riders are taking on bidons and eating food. 

75km remaining from 177km

Roglic has three Jumbo teammates  ahead of him and two behind. They will be there to help him on the climbs, while Powless is in the break, there for when the race explodes.  

Nairo Quintana is again riding in the green points jersey. He spoke briefly at the start but was guarded about his plans.

71km remaining from 177km

(Image credit: ASO/Vuelta a Espana)

The blue section indicates a gradient between 6-9%. This side is much harder than the side climbed earlier in the stage.

As the climb starts, Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) and Jonas Koch (CCC Team) are slightly ahead of their breakaway companions. Behind much of the peloton is back together but surely not for long.

64km remaining from 177km

Here we go. Astana move to the front of the peloton and up the pace dramatically. 

Astana shepherded Lopez all day when he lead the race

(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Roglic has just three teammates now: Kuss, Bennett and Gesink.

Astana shepherded Lopez all day when he lead the race and they are massing on the front now.

Astana's forcing is spitting riders out of the back, including Esteban Chaves of Mitchelton.  

Lopez has five Astana teammates setting the high pace.

60km remaining from 177km

Valverde and Quintana are on Lopez's wheel. There are only 20 or so riders left in the front group. This is hurting.

With 3km to go to the summit, the break hits the steepest part of the climb. This will hurt everyone.

Roglic has slipped back a few places. He only has Kuss with him now. Knox and others have been dropped. 

Lopez attacks! 

There is still 60km to race but Lopez is going for it. 

Kuss takes up the chase for Roglic. He perhaps knows the Slovenian's limits and can pace him up the climb.  But Lopez is already 30 seconds ahead.  

As the summit of the Puerto de la Morcuera, Lopez is closing in on the break. The teams cars are pulled out for safety reasons before the fast descent. 

Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R La Mondiale) is on the front of the break, trying to take maximum points. 

Lopez reaches the summit with some of the breakaway riders. 

His GC rivals are only 25 seconds behind, with Majka making a dig over the top to test his rivals. Roglic reacted but was not quickly on the wheel. 

The descent is fast but needs effort. Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) seems to have something extra and is off the front, diving through the hairpins and fast corners.

46km remaining from 177km

Behind Roglic is alone, as is Pogacar. The final climb of Puerto de Cotos is going to be very interesting. 

Roglic now has Powless with him, after  the talented American dropped back from the break. For now Jumo's tactics and team strength are making a difference. 

42km remaining from 177km

(Image credit: ASO/Vuelta a Espana)

Fraile is still working for Lopez but the GC group can see them now. Lopez's attack was in vain.

37km remaining from 177km

The early part of the climb is gentle in the trees but the gradient soon kicks up.  

Higuita takes a final bidon from his team car and powers on alone. 

vuelta espana 2019

(Image credit: Getty Images)

32km remaining from 177km

Roglic has Powless and Kuss riding tempo for him. Nobody seems to have the power to make a difference today and so put Roglic in difficulty.

30km remaining from 177km

Lopez makes a dig, Roglic and Valverde follow him but Pogacar is suffering. 

Lopez goes again. He's clearly the strongest climber but not by much. Pogacar digs deep and gets back on but will he survive the next attack?   

Pogacar has been dropped but he's fighting on, trying to limit his losses. He has the descent to get back on.  

Quintana is further back than Pogacar, some 20 seconds, so there will be some changes in the GC.  

Lopez has managed to snatch a virtual fourth place from Pogacar but  can he hold the gap? 

26km remaining from 177km

Lopez, Roglic, Valverde and Majka are 45 seconds behind, Pogacar is at a further 30 seconds, with Quintana another 25 seconds back. 

Higuita is on the false flat on the top of the Puerto de Cotos. It's at 1800m and so still hurts. We've got a pursuit match as the GC riders race each other, thinking of the top five overall.  

Roglic is in control today and taking a massive step towards overall victory. Friday's stage to Avila is a not a major problem, leaving just Saturday's final mountain stage to Plataforma de Gredos.  

17km remaining from 177km

Pogacar is stuck in the Quintana chase group and is going to lose at least 50 seconds today. He'll slip to fifth overall. 

10km remaining from 177km

5km remaining from 177km

Lopez is doing all the work on the front of the GC quartet. Valverde is sitting on to limit Quintana's loss behind, Roglic is the overall leader and Majka is not helping despite it being his birthday.  

Higuita is using his track and TT skills to give it all. The roads rises slightly and his gap is down to 25 seconds.   

Higuita is into the final kilometre. He's going to make it to the finish and win.

Higuita eases up and celebrates his solo victory! 

Behind Roglic beats Valverde in the sprint, 15 or so seconds behind. 

Valverde was third, Majka fourth.  

As expected Pogacar finished 60 seconds back with Quintana. He slips to fifth overall.

Lopez moved up to fourth and also took the best young rider's white jersey.

Sergio Higuita

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

This is Higuita as he attacked alone.

This is the top ten for the stage:

Pogacar tried to play down his disappointment but he has to be happy with his Vuelta and 2019 season.

This is the new general classification after stage 18:        

Higuita spoke briefly in Spanish before climbing on the podium. 

Sergio Higuita

Sergio Higuita celebrates his stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana.  (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Sergio Higuita

Another image of Higuita enjoying his first pro victory (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

To see our full stage report, full results and photo gallery, click here.

This image shows the GC riders sprinting to the line. Roglic beat Valverde with a cheeky bike throw 

This image shows the GC riders sprinting to the line. Roglic beat Valverde with a cheeky bike throw  (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The Vuelta stays near Madrid on Friday for stage 18, with a long drop down from the stunning castle walls of Avila to Toledo west of the capital. The 165.2km stage seems suited to a breakaway or the sprinters. however there is a testing kick-up in the final kilometre.

And that's all for our live coverage of stage 18. Join us again tomorrow for complete coverage of stage 19, and check back this evening for reaction and news from the Vuelta a España.

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