Long billed as one of the few stages with the ability to truly decide the overall classification of this year's Vuelta, Stage 18 did not disappoint as Chris Horner turned the screws once again on Vincenzo Nibali in the final kilometer of today's stage, leaving all the other GC contenders floundering in his wake on the 20% ramps towards the finish.
With Nibali seeming more vulnerable as the race goes on, Horner, Valverde, and Rodriguez smelled blood in the water and began preparing their assault long before the final climb. Movistar drove the pace long before the final climb and through the first three kilometers until a short respite in the middle of the climb. As the steepest ramps appeared in the final two kilometers, Katusha drove a three man attack off the front in a move to launch Rodriguez towards the race lead. Horner seemed slow to respond, but eventually he and Nibali regained contact as Rodriguez's teammates burned off. With Valverde floundering behind, the trio rode together for a short while until Horner threw down the gauntlet, gapping the other two and claiming over twenty seconds to pull within three seconds of NIbali's GC lead. Behind, Valverde rallied and gained a few seconds on Nibali along with Rodriguez, but Horner was the main beneficiary. Things look veeeerrrry interesting going into Saturday's beast of a climb up the Angliru. Oh, and there's that pesky mountaintop finish tomorrow as well.
But ahead of the thrilling GC fight, the battle for the stage win was won by Vasil Kiriyenka who audaciously attacked over the top of the penultimate climb, over 30 kilometers from the finish. Though four - and then six - riders chased behind, he steadily opened his gap to over a minute by the time the final 6 kilometer climb started. His normally stoic face showed a glimpse of pain as he stayed in the saddle through the 20% gradients at the top of the climb but he never faltered, winning with plenty of time to sit up and blow a kiss across the finish line.
- Vasil Kiryienka, Sky
- Chris Anker Sorensen, Saxo-Tinkoff, at 0:28
- Adam Hansen, Lotto, at 1.18
- Martin Kohler, BMC, at 1:34
- Egoi Martinez, Euskalte, at 1.42
- Chris Horner, RadioShack-Trek, at 1.53
- Amets Txurruka, Caja Rural, at 2.02
- Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha, at 2.13
- Alejandro Valverde, Movistar, s.t.
- Vincenzo Nibali, Astana, at 2.18
- Horner, at 0.03
- Valverde, at 1.09
- Rodriguez, at 2.24
- Nicholas Roche, Saxo-Tinkoff, at 3.43
- Valverde, 126 points
- Roche, 116
- Dani Moreno, Katusha, 100
- Nicolas Edet, Cofidis, 37 points
- Daniele Ratto, 30
- Horner, 22
- Horner, 9 points
- Roche, 13
- Nibali, 14