The battle for the overall title of the 2011 Vuelta took a back seat today as Francesco Gavazzi of Lampre ISD won a sprint against fellow breakaway rider Kristoff Vandewalle of Quick Step in Noja this afternoon. Alexandre Geniez of Skil-Shimano was third. The Italian's win followed a a day when a group of 17 riders got away early on and the GC contenders took it relatively easy after yesterday's explosive battle between Juan Jose Cobo and Chris Froome on the climb to Peña Cabarga.
The two riders who contested the finish had attacked the remains of that breakaway around 3 kilometres from the end of the stage, not long after RadioShack's Sergio Paulinho, who had tried to solo his way to victory from around 30 kilometres out, had been caught.
With that climb, the last of five on today's 174.5 kilometre route between Soloares and Noja, crested around 30 kilometres from the finish, it always looked like a day when a breakaway might be allowed to get clear, and so it proved.
With just three stages left ahead of Sunday's processional final stage in Madrid, the stage also represented a chance for teams and riders some riders with a point to prove to get away, with teh break featuring the likes of Robert Kiserlovski of Astana, Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez and Garmin Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler.
One rider you wouldn't have expected to see in the break, howver, given his travails over the past couple of days, was Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez, who had lost the points jersey yesterday to Rabobank's Bauke Mollema.
The Spaniard had struggled since crashing towards the end of Tueday's stage to Haro, and it would have suprised few if he had abandoned the race after that stage; instead, this evening he is back in the green jersey after overhauling his Dutch rival today.
Another rider in the break with his eyes on a jersey was AG2R’s Matteo Montaguti, looking to close the gap on David Moncoutié in the mountains competition, a prize that the Cofidis rider is looking to carry off for the fourth year in a row.
The Italian was happy today to take things easy other than trying to pick up points,but that was something that hardly endeared him to his companions in the break, who left him in no doubt about their feelings, with the TV moto repeatedly showing riders taking issue with the AG2R man.
In the end, Montaguti, who had started today third in the mountains competition, 22 points behind Moncoutié, reduced the deficit on the Frenchman to seven points. He could have narrowed the gap further had Nico Sijmens of Cofidis not also been in the break, twice getting ahead of Montaguti at the summit of climbs to deny the Italian points.
Back in the main bunch, Euskaltel-Euskadi put in some hard work at the front of the peloton as the race approached its final 30 kilometres to successfully chase down an attack from Vacansoleil-DCM’s Wouter Poels, who posed a threat to Mikel Nieve’s top-ten overall placing.
It’s been a disappointing Vuelta for the team, who began the race with high hopes of seeing Igor Anton, who had crashed out 12 months ago while in the race leader’s jersey, clinching the overall win, and the bookmakers had installed him as pre-race favourite.
With the race heading into the team’s home Basque region for the first time in more than three decades tomorrow– indeed, the three-week Tour actually finished in Bilbao, not Madrid, every year from 1955 to 1970 – you can expect Euskalte-Euskadi to go all out for a stage win to give their passionate fans something to cheer.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that next year’s Vuelta will start in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, which borders the autonomous Basque region and is considered part of the wider Basque country. It’s a city that race director Javier Guillén described as “emblematic, as well for Spain as for cycling.”
While it will be bike riders, not bulls, racing through the city’s streets on 18 August 2012, it has not yet been decided whether the race will start with a team time trial, as happened last year in Seville and earlier this month in Benidorm. The following day will see a road stage from Pamplona to Viana.
Roberto Jiménez, vice-president of the government of Navarre, joined Guillén in making the announcement and pointed out the region’s ties with the sport.
“We have kind of a debt with cycling. Miguel Indurain is from our land and two professional teams have their headquarters in Navarra. One of them is the doyen of Spanish teams: Movistar. We intend to give to our region an international dimension through cycling.”
Vuelta Stage 18 Result 1 GAVAZZI, Francesco Lampre-ISD 4h 24' 42'' 2 VANDEWALLE, Kristof Quick Step Same time 3 GENIEZ, Alexandre Skil-Shimano + 10'' 4 SIJMENS, Nico Cofidis + 10'' 5 MONTAGUTI, Matteo AG2R-La Mondiale + 10'' 6 GUSTOV, Volodymir Saxo Bank-SunGard + 10'' 7 OROZ, Juan José Euskaltel-Euskadi + 10'' 8 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 10'' 9 KISERLOVSKI, Robert Astana + 10'' 10 DE GREEF, Francis Omega Pharma-Lotto + 15'' 11 PAULINHO, Sergio RadioShack + 1' 08'' 12 KOHLER, Martin BMC Racing + 4' 03'' 13 JUFRÉ, Josep Astana + 4' 03'' 14 MALACARNE, Davide Quick Step + 4' 03'' 15 GESCHKE, Simon Skil-Shimano + 7' 42'' 16 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 7' 42'' 17 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 7' 42'' 18 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 7' 42'' 19 MONDORY, Lloyd AG2R-La Mondiale + 7' 42'' 20 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 7' 42'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 18 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 74h 04' 05'' 2 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 13'' 3 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 1' 41'' 4 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 2' 05'' 5 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 3' 48'' 6 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 4' 13'' 7 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 4' 31'' 8 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 4' 45'' 9 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 5' 20'' 10 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 5' 33''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.