HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory on Thursday in stage 18 of the Vuelta a España.

Cavendish wins his third career Vuelta stage ... all of them this year.
Cavendish wins his third career Vuelta stage ... all of them this year.

It was the third win for the Manxman in the 2010 Vuelta and the fifth for HTC-Columbia.

J.J. Haedo (Saxo Bank) was a distant second with Manuel Cardoso (Footon-Servetto-Fuji) third.

“It’s another victory for me, but it’s a victory for the team. A day after the time trial, we’re happy to win again,” Cavendish said. “Very technical, with a lot of roundabouts — we lost a little bit of position on a hill with about 4km to go and everyone swarmed up. We had to really work hard to get back into position. Peter Velits — sitting there in third — did a great job to pull into the wind. That’s how this team works, he’s sitting in third overall and he’s working for the team.”

American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) just missed the podium, crossing fourth on the day.

There were no significant changes on the overall — Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) continues to lead the Vuelta going into Friday’s stage, a 231.2km slog from Piedrahita to Toledo.

“Today was nothing easy, because it was a short stage and it was very nervous in the bunch,” he said. “There was a lot of wind and there could have been a split in the peloton. It will be decided on the (stage 20) Bola del Mundo. (Ezequiel) Mosquera is the most dangerous rival, but I believe the others will attack, too. Tomorrow could be a dangerous stage, we have a strong team to control the stage.”

One for the sprinters

The 148.9km race south from Valladolid to Salamanca followed a relatively flat, short route with no rated climbs — a course perfectly suited for a field sprint.

An eight-man break was off and rolling by 15km:

  • Daniele Pietropolli, Lampre-Farnese Vini, 58th at 1:37:31
  • Alberto Benítez, Footon-Servetto-Fuji, 75th at 1:52:42
  • Juan Javier Estrada, Andalucia Cajasur, 93rd at 2:11:14
  • Pablo Urtasun, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 113th at 2:42:26
  • Dominik Roels, Milram, 117th at 2:51:27
  • Alexandre Pichot, BBox Bouygues Telecom, 120th at 2:53:59
  • Olivier Kaisen, Omega Pharma-Lotto, 124th at 2:56:40
  • José Vicente Toribio, Andalucia Cajasur, 137th at 3:14:42

HTC-Columbia, Garmin and Française des Jeux monitored the gap, which never got much beyond two minutes.

With 31km to go the margin was just 90 seconds. And 20km further along it was all over, and the sprinters’ teams began setting up their trains.

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took off with 10km to go, but he never got much of a gap and was back in the fold with 5km remaining.

The pace eased up and the pack bunched up, briefly, with 3.5km to go. And then Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto came forward and ramped up the speed.

Then it was HTC, Garmin and Liquigas all battling for the front — and Cavendish launched off Matt Goss’ wheel and up the right-hand side of the road to the win.

Complete results

Quick results

  • 1. Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia, at 3:27:11
  • 2. Juan Jose Haedo, Team Saxo Bank, same time
  • 3. Manuel A. Leal Cardoso, Footon-Servetto-Fuji, s.t.
  • 4. Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Transitions, s.t.
  • 5. Samuel Dumoulin, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, s.t.

Overall standings

  • 1. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo, at 74:47:06
  • 2. Ezequiel Mosquera, Xacobeo Galicia, at 0:38
  • 3. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 1:59
  • 4. Frank Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, at 3:43
  • 5. Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 3:48
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: CAZEAUX CRASH
Pierre Cazaux suffered a low-speed crash in the feedzone. He rejoined the peloton.
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: NIBALI
One more day in red. Nibali’s mind may be on Saturday, though.
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: NIBALI PODIUM
Will he wear this into Madrid?
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: ROELS ESCAPE
The inevitable catch came about 12km from the finish.
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: BAK CHASES
HTC-Columbia and Garmin-Transitions kept the break within two minutes for most of the day
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: CAVENDISH 2
Another day, another bottle.
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: PETERSON CHASES
Garmin drives the chase.
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: URTAZUN-BENITEZ ESCAPE
The eight-man break never got more than two minutes up the road on this short stage
2010 Vuelta a España stage 18: CAVENDISH 1
Cavendish wins his third career Vuelta stage … all of them this year.