Burgos to Peña Cabarga 186.5km
With this Vuelta rapidly drawing to a close, and the final Grand Tour of the season running out of road, the 186.5km (115.9mi) Eighteenth Stage from Burgos to Peña Cabarga was bound to be hard and fast. Astana's Vincenzo Nibali started the day with a 28-second lead on Chris Horner in the battle atop the overall standings. Cannondale Pro Cycling's Daniele Ratto had a seven-point deficit to Cofidis' Nicolas Edet to make up in the Mountains competition. And there was no shortage of opportunists who wanted to spoil the party for everybody.
It took of 23km (14.3mi) for a breakaway of fifteen to establish itself. It was sure to gobble up all of the KoM points. Ratto didn't make it, so his deficit on Edet would remain. But his teammate Tiziano D'all'Antonia got into the mix and rode with his fourteen companions to a lead that ballooned to over ten minutes before the field, led by Astana, then Movistar for Alejandro Valverde, began to close it down.
Climbing the Alto del Caracol, the third climb of the day, break member Vasili Kiryienka of Movistar started accelerating. The gap to the peloton was still a healthy six minutes, but there was 40km (24.9mi) remaining and he wanted a more exclusive selection to improve his odds of a stage win. He struck out solo.
Kiryienka's move split the breakaway into three groups. D'all'Antonia found himself in the third, while the first two groups shuffled and reshuffled and a chase group of six formed with sixteen kilometers (9.9mi) remaining.
Behind, Movistar was lighting it up for Valverde. Up front, Kiryienka started the final climb to Peña Cabarga with a minute on the chase and almost six minutes on the peloton, which saw Chris Horner's RadioShack squad charge to the front and take their man to the front for the climb.
Kiryienka ground away. As the slopes reached 20% in the final kilometer, he had little to worry about. He just kept ticking over the pedals and had the win. Out of the chase, Saxo-Tinkoff Bank's Chris Anker Sorensen came home in second.
Behind them, the race for Red was heating up. First, Alejandro Valverde put in a dig. Then, Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez tried attacking. And the race was on. Horner picked up the pace, displacing Valverde and Roche. He kept the pressure on and cracked Nibali. Then, in the final kilometer, he cracked Rodriguez. Knowing that he could take over the race lead, Horner attacked the steep gradient with everything he had left.
It wasn't enough. Nibali hung onto his lead by three seconds. Valverde, likewise, remained in third despite Rodriguez's attempts. D'all'Antonia was passed by the peloton on the final climb and came in 44th.
Stage Nineteen, tomorrow's race, 181km (112.5mi) from San Vicente de la Barquera to Alto del Naranco, is a stage of two faces. The first 100km are completely flat, while the final 81km transition from hilly to mountainous. The final climb, a six-kilometer (3.7mi) rise to Alto del Naranco will see the favorites go at each other again. Daniele Ratto and Cannondale Pro Cycling remain committed to getting mountain points for the young Italian and putting another man in the day's breakaway.
Vuelta a España 2013
Stage 18: Burgos to Peña Cabarga
1. Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Sky Procycling 4:46:48
2. Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:28
3. Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Belisol 0:01:18
4. Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing Team 0:01:34
5. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:42
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
44. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:06:17
67. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:08:49
75. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 0:10:46
99. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 0:13:36
115. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:22:16
121. Cameron Wurf (Aus) same time
147. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 0:24:07
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 73:39:35
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:03
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:09
4. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:24
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:43
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
49. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 1:35:41
60. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 1:51:26
89. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 2:29:00
93. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 2:38:38
97. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 2:42:24
112. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 3:06:05
143. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 3:45:28
1. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 37 pts
2. Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 30
3. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 22
4. Amets Txurruka (Spa) Caja Rural 22
5. Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 20