Vuelta stage 18: Kiryienka wins, Nibali’s lead slashed

Stage 18: Burgos to Pena Cabarga, 186.5km

Vasil Kiryienka attacked with 45km remaining and maintained his slender advantage to take a well-deserved solo victory at the summit of Pena Cabarga ahead of Chris Anker Sorensen and Adam HansenVincenzo Nibali just clung onto the race lead after being dropped and distanced by Chris Horner in the final kilometre.

Vuelta 2013 Stage 18 profile
Another high-paced start saw a 15-man break form. The group included Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff). Their advantage went out to over ten minutes until the GC teams – largely Movistar and Astana – started to rein them back.

The break split on the penultimate Alto del Caracol, prompting Kiryienka to go it alone. Initially, he was followed by Hansen and Clarke but he left them for dust. Those two were joined by others from the break to form a chasing group of eight, but they made little or no headway. The other six riders were swallowed up in ones and twos by the fast advancing peloton driven firstly by Katusha and then RadioShack-Leopard as the peloton reached the lower slopes of the Pena Cabarga. Nibali attached himself to Horner’s wheel, a defensive rather than offensive move. So, while the Belarusian Kiryienka was celebrating his well-deserved victory, back down the road hostilities were just breaking out among the contenders as the gradient hit 20%.

Moreno and Rodriguez ignited the race when they attacked with 1,500 metres to go. Horner followed while Nibali, in his haste to stay with Horner, locked elbows with Valverde on a corner as he fought for the best line. The race leader managed to claw his way back to the trio but was unable to respond when Horner accelerated again and danced away in the last kilometre. It was 2010 all over again, when he lost 20 seconds to Rodriguez in the final 800 metres on the very same climb. This time he lost 25 seconds. He’s still wearing the race leader’s jersey, but only just, setting up an intriguing contest heading into the last two mountains stages.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Vasil Kiryienka en route to victory

It has to be today’s stage winner. The usually impassive Vasil Kiryienka rode 45km on his own to seal victory. We have been used to seeing him ride seemingly forever at the front of the Movistar train, but at the start of this season he moved to Sky – a coup on their part – and he’s continued with the sterling service. This man is worth his weight in gold to any aspirant grand tour-winning team. Cruelly eliminated in the Tour de France this year when he missed a time cut, Kiryienka was let off the leash today and he repaid the team’s faith in him with a magnificent solo victory which he movingly dedicated to Daniele Tortoli, his first directeur sportif, who died recently. He was delighted with his maiden win for the team –  Sky also won here in 2011 with Chris Froome – and confirmed:

It was an incredible feeling when I wrapped up the victory and I was so pleased to be able to pay the team back for all the faith they have shown in me this year. It’s a perfect result for the team because we’ve been working so hard to get that elusive win in this last week or so. We’ve come close in the sprints, in the mountains, and now we’ve won from a breakaway, so we’re all really happy.

I’ve a bit of a soft spot for the Belarusian who was so humble, delighted and surprised when he won bronze in last year’s World Championship individual time trial in Valkenburg. His palmares really doesn’t do justice to his riding ability as he pretty much always rides in the service of others. Bronze medal apart, this is his first win since a stage in 2011’s Giro d’Italia and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer chap. Corks will be popping at the Sky dinner table this evening.

Analysis & opinion

There were no changes in either the jerseys or the overall top-ten on general classification but, ever since Monday’s wobble, we’ve all been speculating about Nibali’s form. Was it a chink in the armour which was going to be snapped shut or prised open today? We now know the answer. It’s a gaping wound which is going to be prodded and probed in the next two days by Horner, Valverde and Rodriguez. They’ve smelled blood, they’re circling and it remains to be seen whether they’ll go in for the kill tomorrow or Saturday.

Markel Irizar, Horner’s teammate, has said Chris is convinced he’s going to win the Vuelta. It’s amazing what belief, a light racing schedule and the prospect of unemployment can do for a man who’s nearly 42 years old. If he does win, it’ll strike a blow everywhere for Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs).

Stage 18 result

1. Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) 4:46:48

2. Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:28

3, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) +1:18

4. Martin Kohler (BMC) +1:34

5, Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:42

General classification

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 73:39:35

2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:03

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:09

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:24

5. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +3:43

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:44

7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +6:14

8. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +6:35

9. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +7:51

10. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +11:10

Points classification: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Mountains classification: Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).

Combination classification: Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).

Team classification: Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Link: Official website

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