Vuelta Stage 18: Roche takes two-up sprint, GC status quo

Nicolas Roche held off Haimar Zubeldia in a two-up sprint into Riaza after the pair were the strongest riders in the day’s 25-man break. Bidding for the second Vuelta stage win of his career, Roche confidently led Zubeldia to the line before timing his sprint to perfection.

Stage 18 profile: Vuelta a Espana 2015

Stage 18 profile: Vuelta a Espana 2015

The pyrotechnics display began just before the final climb when Europcar’s Cyril Gautier gapped the disorganised 25-man break in a bid for personal glory. He was reeled back in 5km from the summit just as Fabio Aru unexpectedly attacked from out of the chasing pack. Tom Dumoulin was swiftly onto his back wheel with the other favourites rapidly playing catch up to preserve their overall positions. It was attack after attack and counter-attack: exciting, heart-pounding, sweaty palm racing with everyone hoping their efforts might move them up the rankings. None more so than Aru. But however many times he attacked, he couldn’t shake Dumoulin who had the tenacity of a dog with a bone and wouldn’t be dislodged whatever Aru threw at him. Indeed, he looked very much at ease.

By now Roche, another rider from the break, was up the road on his own until Zubeldia bridged across. The pair went over the summit and onto the descent, with another break-mate, Jose Goncalves, in hot pursuit and the bunch less than a minute behind. Roche led into the finish and timed his sprint to comfortably take his second career stage victory in the Vuelta. Goncalves finished third while Alejandro Valverde was the best of the rest, none of whom had gained any advantage from today’s stage. Expect more fireworks tomorrow as the riders head inexorably towards Madrid, where the fat lady will be singing. The question is: for whom?

Rider(s) of the day

Zeits and Vanotti are in here (image: Richard Whatley)

Zeits and Vanotti are in here somewhere (Image: Richard Whatley)

I’m going for a couple of unsung heroes who have worked their socks off day after day  – none more so than today – for their Astana teammate Fabio Aru. Step forward Alessandro Vanotti and Andrey Zeits. The 34-year old Italian Vanotti rode on the front of the chasing peloton for what seemed like forever. He joined Astana in 2013 from Liquigas as part of Vincenzo Nibali’s coterie. He’s been a consistent performer and diligent domestique over the years with only two WorldTour victories to his name, both of which have come in team time trials with Astana (2013 Vuelta a Espana and 2015 Vuelta a Burgos). The 28-year-old Kazakh rider Zeits is also typical of the breed, having ridden for the team since 2008, and his only WorldTour win was in the same team time trial in the 2013 Vuelta.

Two things we noticed

1. You can’t shake Dumoulin that easily. It didn’t matter how often or how hard Aru attacked, Dumoulin was equal to it.

2. We love family podiums.

Stage 18 result

1.  Nicolas Roche (Sky) 5:03:59

2.  Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) same time

3.  Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) +0:18

4.  Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:38

5.  Esteban Chavez (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time

General classification

1. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) 73:45:13

2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:03

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1.15

4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +2:22

5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2:53

6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3:15

7. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +3:30

8. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +3:46

9. Mikel Nieve (Sky) +4:10

10. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) +6:51

Points leader: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

King of the Mountains leader: Omar Fraile (Caja Rural).

Combined classification leader: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

Team classification leader: Movistar.

Link: Official race website

Header: © Sky

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