La Vuelta 18: On The Attack

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Aru, Rodriguez, Quintana and Valverde to grab the Red Jersey, Dumoulin to keep it, Nieve and Chaves to keep or improve their place in GC. Roche to win the stage, and Zubeldia to contend it to him.
Attacks started so early that it made a very exciting race. Still, nothing change in the overall standing.
Roche and Zubeldia was in a large  break including also De Clercq, Cardoso, Goncalves, Poljanski, Madrazo, Vorganov, Rojas, Van der Sande, Atapuma, Hansen, Serry, De Kort, Lemoine, Durasek, Reynes, Roosen, Minard, Courteille, Rollin, Pellaud, Jim, Bennati.
Embedded image permalinkMandrazo was first at the first KOM, in Alto de Santibañez de Ayllón (3rd cat, 7.8km, avg 4%). Then the second climb came: Alto del Campanario (3rd cat, 6.5km, avg 3.9%).  The gap was 5'40".
35 km to go Vicioso attacks, Prito goes on conter. He's immediately caught but the dances are officially open.
Embedded image permalinkTeam Astana takes the lead. Dumoulin too wants to stay in front. The pace is very very fast on this almost bald mountain, covered on sparse trees and wild busches hanging on the nude rock. 
Puerto de la Quesera, 28 km to go Van der Sande attacks the break, Gautier follows and drops him. He's solo in front.
18 km to go Aru attacks a decimated peloton but Dumoulin followsAru attacks again, Dumoulin is still there. Majka, Quintana and Chaves join. Rodriguez and Valverde bridge. The gap is now about 1'. 
Embedded image permalinkIn front Roche joined and dropped Gautier. Behind Valverde attacks but is caught. A new group formed, including also Nieve.
Embedded image permalink17 km to go Chaves attacksValverde follows. Nieve and Majka come across. Dumoulin and Aru are slightly dropped. But all come together again. Now Aru attacks. Contenders follow. Nieve attacks and gets a gap.
In front Zubeldia bridged to Roche. They collaborated and their advantage increases.
Behind the attacks fly and Nieve is caught. Still he hangs on.
Puerto de la Quesera. 12km to go. Roche and Zubeldia have 23" on Goncalves and 53" on GC group.
Embedded image permalinkDescent.  2 km to go the gap is 45". Roche is heavily bandaged from his previous crash but fighting like a lion. Zubeldia stays on his wheel. Roche launches the sprint, Zubeldia gets off and tries but can't pass. Roche wins, rising a fist like in a punch.
Behind there is no gap so no change in the top ten.

Nicolas Roche:
"The two of us were very good to cooperate from 15k to go and I think that was our only chance. Coming into the sprint, I wanted to lead it out because Haimar has a lot of experience. I’ve lost sprints to him in the past at San Sebastian so I wanted to manage it for myself and lead it out. I didn’t want to put my hands up until I crossed the line."

Tom Dumoulin:
Embedded image permalink"There are three hard days coming up but we’ve survived the first one and it was a good day. Aru tried very hard today but I actually was never in trouble and after his first attack I knew I would keep the red jersey today."

Alejandro Valverde:
“There was no way - we tried it but we couldn’t. To be honest, Astana took some efforts and it was needed for them too; you’ve got to test the leader’s legs, and we all did, but you could see Dumoulin is feeling really strong, he’s able to resist Aru’s moves and is one of the strongest in the peloton at the moment. The podium is becoming difficult for us, but I won’t settle - we will keep on trying.”

Nairo Quintana:
“We decided to try some moves and seek for the podium, after the moral boost following our recovery in the TT. We rested well on Tuesday, prepared ourselves for the challenge -we were on sort of a low after the hard days we had gone through- and, while Alejandro is a specialist, I had one of those days where I perform well on such a course and we both improved our GC positions. Now our goal is to bring the fans, the people watching on TV, the team fans some happiness. That’s why Alejandro tried a little, I did into the descent… and we will continue so until the end of the Vuelta. 
I don’t know if we will be the key for the podium - there were too many interests from other teams to chase every move. Still, in days like today you enjoy when you’re recovered, you feel great when it’s hard and hope for the other to suffer, even though you only pray for the ‘attacks to stop when it’s on the contrary, just like when I was ill. Tomorrow? We’ll react depending on the race situation, something you can’t easily predict.”

Joaquim Rodriguez:
"Astana controlled with a very impressive fast rhythm until the last climb, hoping to isolate Dumoulin, but that didn’t work out. Dumoulin is strong. In my opinion it would be better to save the forces to attack him many times instead of imposing a high pace. We tried to play our game but it was not so easy. Finally we all came together at the finish. Let’s see what happens in the next two days."

1 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sky 5:03:59
2 Hamiar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing 
3 José Gonçalves (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:00:18
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:38
5 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica GreenEdge 
6 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 
7 Pieter Serry (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step 
8 Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Soudal 
9 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step 
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 
1 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 73:45:13
2 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:03
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:15
4 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:02:22
5 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:02:53
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:15
7 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica GreenEdge 0:03:30
8 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:03:46
9 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky 0:04:10
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka 0:06:51

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