Hello and welcome to live coverage of the Vuelta Espana!
Today is a joyful 144km roll through some undulating hills for the riders between Las Rozas and Las Rozas. So it's a big loop. There are a few uncategorized climbs, and it may not be a day for the sprinters. But we'll just see, won't we.
Additional commentary by Jaime Nichols.
6:36 am PDT.So as we start our coverage, fifteen men are off the front: Bert Grabsch (Phonak), Francisco Cerezo Perales (Labarca 2 - Cafe Baques), and German Fernandez (Relax-Fuenlabrada) came 1-2-3 in the first intermediate sprint.
The group of fifteen has 2' 29". I'll give the full list in a second.
Millar (Cofidis), the winner of yesterday's stage with a brilliant break, is sitting near the back of the peloton taking it easy today. He keeps mumbling something about, "they can take our lives, but they can never take our freedom." Must be a Scottish thing.
Other men in the break: "Americano" Guido Trenti (Fassa Bortolo), Jose Luis Arrieta (iBanesto.com), Carlos Garcia Quesada (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Pedro Diaz Lobato (Paternina-Costa de Almeria), Raphael Schweda (Bianchi), Thorsten Rund (Bianchi), Stephan Schreck (Telekom), Joan "Nudie" Horrach (Milaneza-MSS), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Constantino Zaballa (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Oscar Laguna (Relax-Fuenlabrada), Inaki Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Niki Aebersold (Phonak).
Francisco Mancebo has a flat, he's had a change, and is chasing back on. He's pacing himself back on behind the US Postal car.
Quickstep and Vini Caldirola are leading the chase...Domina Vacanze also lend a hand. They are all teams with sprinters who have missed the break.
Freddy Rodriguez and Tom Boonen have been close a few times during this Vuelta. Interesting that Postal has nobody in the break. They are just taking it easy protecting their leaders today.
Arrieta attacks the break on this small, uncategorized climb. He is being chased... Quesada attacks now. The break is splintering under the pressure.
6:59 am PDT. 52km left. The fifteen men are all together again. Phonak, Kelme, and Relax each have 2 riders in this break.
The riders are flying along, 49.8 km/h the last hour. Again, they must all have hot dates waiting at the finish line. They haven't been dallying at all in this Vuelta. Amazing.
Vini Caldirola, Domina Vacanze, and Quickstep are still driving it in the peloton. Lombardi must like his chances.
Today is the birthday of Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze-Elitron). The young man is only 24 years old. He'd like to celebrate with a victory by his teammate Lombardi.
Kelme's Manzano attacks the pack...
Is he bridging up to his teammate in the break? The Kermit man has a good gap. Of course, he could just be trying to improve the numbers of his team, who already have two men there. Or maybe to incite the field to chase...
7:08am PDT. 52 km to go. The big break only has about 1' 30" now.
Stephan "Ogre" Schreck had a go, attacking the break, but he's now been brought back.
7:12am PDT. 46km left. Quickstep has two men on the front driving the peloton. Domina Vacanze has two men helping. The break is not really driving it any more. Horrach tried to attack, but is now brought back. There is no cohesion up there any more, with lots of passengers. The group is just too big.
Meanwhile, Millar sits in the pack thinking about his chances in the world championships. He keeps referring to it as "the Gathering," and mumbling something about "there can only be one." Of course, after his ride yesterday, Millar has to be considered as a darkhorse favorite for the road race, as well as a hot favorite for the time trial.
7:18 am PDT. The peloton is strung out through the streets of a small, beautiful town on the route. The way that the teams of the sprinters are working, it may very well come down to a bunch bash. Telekom and Fassa Bortolo aren't working at the front because they have men in the break, but you can bet Petacchi and Zabel are already eyeing each other.
Will these undulating hills take some of the sap out of Petacchi's legs? We'll see.
The riders are really struggling up a climb. There's a crash!
It was an Euskaltel man who went down near the front of the peloton. They were going slowly enough so that nobody else hit the deck. Nobody appears to have been hurt, and the Euskaltel man is back up and riding.
David Etxebarria (Euskaltel) is flying away on an attack.
This is really a nasty little climb! It has shelled a few men from the break, and now these men are being picked up by the peloton.
Etxebarria is only 30" behind the leaders, and closing rapidly. Horrach is attacking again from the group, and only a few men have held his wheel. Etxebarria looks like he is going to catch that lead group, which is now down to about five men! Geez, this little hill blew that break to bits. The peloton has swept up most of them now.
7:29 am PDT. 38km left. Etxebarria is now up to Trenti, who is holding onto his wheel trying to bridge back up to the few men off the front. Horrach, Arrieta, and Flores are the only ones left at the front of the race. Etxebarria and Trenti are now picking up Schreck.
The Horrach group has 57" on the peloton.
So it's Horrach, Arrieta, and Isasi Flores off the front. They are chased by a group of four with D. Etxebarria, Trenti, Schreck, and Cerezo Perales. Now Etxebarria drops the three others.
Etxebarria is out of the saddle, and really just flying down the road. The men ahead of him have been off the front since the 20km mark, so they won't have nearly as much in reserve as Etxebarria. If he can join that lead trio, then there will be two Euskaltels in that lead group.
7:36 am PDT. 28km left. That lead trio is still away, and Etxebarria has now been swept back up by the other men from the original break.
The three leaders are 54" ahead of that chase group, and the peloton is a bit further back. It will be hard for the peloton to make the chase on these twisting roads.
With Trenti and Schreck off the front still, Fassa and Telekom don't have to chase. The peloton is 2' 11" behind the lead trio. The chasers are 50" behind the leaders.
7:41 am PDT. 23km left. Now Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta (iBanesto) attacks. He was back up to the lead group, somehow, and is flying up the road solo at the front of the race. He has a good gap.
He has some cool shades on, and is grimacing in pain up another long, rolling hill as he hammers on his attack.
7:45 am PDT. 21km left. Garcia Acosta is still just ahead of a regrouped break of about ten men. Now Horrach bridges up to Garcia Acosta. The two men start to take turns to stay away from the many chasers.
Horrach gets chased down, with the chase led by Arrieta. Now Horrach flies off the front again! He has a gap, but that hasn't meant much today.
20km left. The chasers are looking at each other. They seem to want to attack rather than cooperate. Horrach only has 8" on the chasers.
Diaz Lobato is now the man at the front of the race. Horrach is chasing, followed by another group of about five men. The peloton is over 2' 30" behind! This break can now very well stay clear! The rolling hills have put the wood to the sprinters and their teams, it seems.
All seven men on the front of the race have now regrouped.
7:51 am PDT. This front group includes Horrach, Arrieta, Diaz Lobato, Isasi Flores...no, wait, Diaz Lobato is off the front still. He calls for water from the neutral support car.
So Pedro Diaz Lobato (Paternina-Costa de Almeria) is solo off the front, being chased by an ever-changing group of six to seven riders.
7:55 am PDT. 14km left. Diaz Lobato has 15" on the chase group of seven men. That chase group is still sitting up looking at each other a bit. They don't want to work together! Horrach attacks again, and he is being chased by Isasi Flores. Arrieta is there, as is Schweda.
7:58 am PDT. 12km left. The gap is growing to over 20" now. Garcia Quesada (Kelme) is in this chase group, but now he attacks! Horrach chases him down, as the riders hit a small climb. That chase group is now down to five men. Meanwhile, Diaz Lobato continues to hammer away. A group of Etxebarria, Schreck, Trenti, and one other is a bit further back.
10km left. The gap for Diaz Lobato is 26" ahead of the five-man chase. The men in that chase are continuously attacking each other. The peloton is 2' 03" back, and accelerating. But it looks a bit late for the peloton, led by CSC, to bring back the break.
Horrach attacks again from the five-man chase. He is followed by Garcia Acosta, Isasi Flores, Garcia Quesada, and Schweda.
These five men are now back together. If they keep attacking each other instead of working, they will never catch Diaz Lobato!
6km left. Diaz Lobato is now 43" ahead of the five-man chase, which is completely disorganized.
The peloton is out of it. No way they will catch back on now. 5 km to go.
Pedro Diaz Lobato is hammering solo. He looks like he is going to win the stage. That chase behind is 55" in arrears, and still monkeying around instead of chasing.
3km left. The status is the same. This will be a great victory for the Paternina Costa de Almeria team! They are one of the little teams in the race, but this is a big attack.
Hmmm... in the peloton, a crosswind is threatening to split the group. There are a lot of US Postal jerseys up near the front of the peloton.
2km left for Pedro Diaz Lobato. The peloton is now split about 2' behind, as someone has put the hammer down.
Final Kilometer. Pedro Diaz Lobato will win. He has a lead of over 1' on his chasers. He is now in the final straight. He is talking to his team manager, and he still looking over his shoulder. He can't believe it!
He celebrates as he crosses the line. The fans go crazy as Pedro Diaz Lobato wins the stage.
Here comes the sprint for 2nd. A Kelme man takes 2nd. Here comes the field sprint. Zabel takes Petacchi!
The Kelme man thought he won the stage! He was pumping the air as he finished, celebrating, but he must not have known that Diaz Lobato was up the road! He's in for a rude greeting from the judges.
Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) was dropped by the peloton! He has lost time as the peloton split!
It will be interesting to see what other kind of damage that split in the peloton caused. The cameras were with the break, so it was hard to tell what was going on back there.
1. Diaz Lobato, 2. Zaballa, 3. Arrieta, 4. Schweda, 5. Garcia Acosta, 6. Isasi, 7. Horrach, 8. Laguna, 9. Garcia Quesada, 10. Zabel, 11. Petacchi, 12. Rodriguez.
Zaballa had bridged up to the chase group, and so he didn't know that a man had gotten free. When he caught that chase, he thought he was then racing for the win.
It looks like Valverde had a puncture in the final kilometer, and the judges are giving him the same time as the peloton at this point.
The split in the peloton wasn't as severe as we thought. Some men were trailed off, but it mostly came back together before they crossed the finish line.
The GC remains the same. Diaz Lobato is now on the podium, smootching some girls with large green tube tops and stylish handbags. He looks very happy.
Please join us again tomorrow for more "leg-busting" as the riders face two Category 3 and two Category 1 climbs on the way from La Vega de Alcobendas to Collado Villalba. Thanks for reading today!
Stage 18 Results
1º Diaz Lobato, Pedro Esp Alm 3:07:47
2º Zaballa, Constantino Esp Kel a 44
3º Arrieta, José Luis Esp Ban m.t.
4º Schweda, Raphael Ger Tbi m.t.
5º Garcia Acosta, José Esp Ban m.t.
6º Isasi, Iñaki Esp Eus m.t.
7º Horrach, Joan Esp Mil a 47
8º Laguna, Oscar Esp Crf a 52
9º Garcia Quesada, Carlos Esp Kel a 56
10º Zabel, Erik Ger Tel a 58
11º Petacchi, Alessandro Ita Fas m.t.
12º Rodriguez, Fred Usa Vin m.t.
13º Usov, Alexandre Blr Pho m.t.
14º Guidi, Fabrizio Ita Tbi m.t.
15º Bruun, Thomas Den Csc m.t.
16º Ivanov, Serguei Rus Fas m.t.
17º Edo, Angel Esp Mil m.t.
18º Martin Perdiguero, Miguel Esp Dve m.t.
19º Etxebarria, Unai Ven Eus m.t.
20º Rasmussen, Michael Den Rab m.t.
21º Gonzalez, Gorka Esp Eus m.t.
22º Torrent, Carlos Esp Alm m.t.
23º Lombardi, Giovanni Ita Dve a 1:02
24º Jufre, José Esp Crf m.t.
25º Osa, Unai Esp Ban m.t.
26º Sastre, Carlos Esp Csc m.t.
27º Osa, Aitor Esp Ban m.t.
28º Martinez, Alberto Esp Eus m.t.
29º Lara, Francisco José Esp Tbi m.t.
30º Lopez, David Esp L2c m.t.
31º Beltran, Manuel Esp Usp m.t.
32º Sevilla, Oscar Esp Kel m.t.
33º Landis, Floyd Usa Usp m.t.
34º Perez, Santiago Esp Pho m.t.
35º Nozal, Isidro Esp One m.t.
36º Heras, Roberto Esp Usp m.t.
37º Engels, Addy Ned Rab m.t.
38º Cardenas, Felix Col L2c m.t.
39º Glez. Galdeano, Igor Esp One m.t.
40º De Los Angeles, Juan José Esp Fas m.t.
41º Werner, Christian Ger Tel m.t.
42º Calvente, Manuel Esp Csc m.t.
43º Mancebo, Francisco Esp Ban m.t.
44º Burgos, Nacor Esp Crf m.t.
45º Lastras, Pablo Esp Ban m.t.
46º Noval, Benjamín Esp Crf m.t.
47º Rebollo, Jose Luis Esp Crf m.t.
48º Vicioso, Angel Esp One m.t.
49º Pradera, Mikel Esp One m.t.
50º Del Olmo, Txema Esp Mil m.t.
53º Garcia Casas, Félix Esp Tbi m.t.
55º Perez, Luis Esp Cof m.t.
56º Etxebarria, David Esp Eus m.t.
65º Cardoso, Pedro Por Mil m.t.
66º Atienza, Daniel Esp Cof m.t.
67º Julich, Bobby Usa Tel m.t.
68º Rodriguez, Joaquin Esp One m.t.
73º Barry ,Michael Can Usp a 2:21
74º Amorim, Gonçalo Por Mil a 2:21
76º Fuentes, Juan Esp Sae a 2:50
86º Navas, David Esp Crf a 3:51
96º Piccoli, Mariano Ita Lam m.t.
104º Frigo, Dario Ita Fas m.t.
108º Boonen, Tom Bel Qsd m.t.
112º Van Heeswijk, Max Ned Usp m.t.
113º Piepoli, Leonardo Ita Ban m.t.
120º Schreck, Stephan Ger Tel m.t.
124º Laiseka, Roberto Esp Eus m.t.
130º Latasa, David Esp Kel m.t.
135º Mercado, Juan Miguel Esp Ban m.t.
136º Rubiera, José Luis Esp Usp m.t.
138º Leipheimer, Levy Usa Rab m.t.
144º Nieto, Germán Esp Crf m.t.
146º Fernandez, Bingen Esp Cof m.t.
151º Kroon, Karsten Ned Rab m.t.
153º Millar, David Gbr Cof m.t.
General Classification after Stage 18
1º Nozal, Isidro Esp One 61:20:42
2º Glez. Galdeano, Igor Esp One a 3:03
3º Heras, Roberto Esp Usp a 3:09
4º Beltran, Manuel Esp Usp a 5:16
5º Valverde, Alejandro Esp Kel a 5:20
6º Mancebo, Francisco Esp Ban a 6:27
7º Rasmussen, Michael Den Rab a 7:25
8º Perez, Luis Esp Cof a 8:51
9º Osa, Unai Esp Ban a 8:57
10º Cardenas, Felix Col L2c a 9:28
11º Gonzalez, Santos Esp Dve a 10:41
12º Scarponi, Michele Ita Dve a 11:25
13º Sevilla, Oscar Esp Kel a 12:03
14º Serrano, Marcos Esp One a 13:30
15º Garcia Casas, Félix Esp Tbi a 14:57
16º Del Olmo, Txema Esp Mil a 15:28
17º Flores, Iker Esp Eus a 17:44
18º Pereiro, Oscar Esp Pho a 18:13
19º Trentin, Guido Ita Cof a 29:15
20º Jufre, José Esp Crf a 33:07
21º Frigo, Dario Ita Fas a 40:49
22º Cuesta, Iñigo Esp Cof a 40:59
23º Calvente, Manuel Esp Csc a 48:01
24º Piepoli, Leonardo Ita Ban a 48:45
25º Osa, Aitor Esp Ban a 51:38
Points Classification after Stage 18
1º Zabel, Erik Ger Tel 151
2º Petacchi, Alessandro Ita Fas 135
3º Valverde, Alejandro Esp Kel 125
4º Cardenas, Felix Col L2c 97
5º Nozal, Isidro Esp One 92
6º Rasmussen, Michael Den Rab 91
7º Edo, Angel Esp Mil 70
8º Boonen, Tom Bel Qsd 68
9º Etxebarria, Unai Ven Eus 67
10º Osa, Unai Esp Ban 66
11º Perez, Luis Esp Cof 65
12º Millar, David Gbr Cof 65
13º Rodriguez, Fred Usa Vin 64
14º Glez. Galdeano, Igor Esp One 61
15º Zaballa, Constantino Esp Kel 60
16º Rodriguez, Joaquin Esp One 57
17º Heras, Roberto Esp Usp 53
18º Mancebo, Francisco Esp Ban 53
19º Diaz Lobato, Pedro Esp Alm 52
20º Sevilla, Oscar Esp Kel 52
Mountains Classification after Stage 18
1º Cardenas, Felix Col L2c 194
2º Osa, Aitor Esp Ban 112
3º Horrach, Joan Esp Mil 101
4º Valverde, Alejandro Esp Kel 88
5º Perez, Luis Esp Cof 72
6º Jufre, José Esp Crf 57
7º Rasmussen, Michael Den Rab 56
8º Osa, Unai Esp Ban 52
9º Sevilla, Oscar Esp Kel 49
10º Rodriguez, Joaquin Esp One 49
11º Heras, Roberto Esp Usp 47
12º Zaballa, Constantino Esp Kel 40
13º Piepoli, Leonardo Ita Ban 39
14º Etxebarria, Unai Ven Eus 31
15º Nozal, Isidro Esp One 31
16º Mercado, Juan Miguel Esp Ban 31
17º Jeker, Fabian Sui Mil 30
18º Frigo, Dario Ita Fas 29
19º Etxebarria, David Esp Eus 23
20º Mancebo, Francisco Esp Ban 23
Teams Classification after Stage 18
1º Once - Eroski ONE 184:10:27
2º IBanesto.com BAN a 5:13
3º Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL a 22:24
4º Cofidis, le credit par telephone COF a 31:08
5º Euskaltel - Euskadi EUS a 39:21
6º Milaneza - MSS MIL a 42:20
7º Domina Vacanze-Elitron-RDZ DVE a 1:01:45
8º US Postal Service Berry Floor USP a 1:34:23
9º Fassa Bortolo FAS a 1:54:01
10º Colchon Relax - Fuenlabrada CRF a 2:34:33
11º Team CSC CSC a 2:44:17
12º Paternina - Costa de Almeria ALM a 2:52:08
13º Quick Step - Davitamon QSD a 3:00:47
14º Labarca-2 Cafe Baque L2C a 3:02:23
15º Rabobank RAB a 3:07:48
16º Team Bianchi TBI a 3:35:56
17º Phonak Hearing Systems PHO a 3:53:49
18º Team Telekom TEL a 4:03:55
19º Lampre LAM a 4:49:28
20º Alessio ALS a 5:47:26
21º Saunier Duval - Vini Caldirola VIN a 7:02:20
22º Saeco - Longoni Sport SAE a 8:04:2