The second consecutive mountain stage will be favorable for breakaways. The peloton will complete several back-to-back climbs, including the Collada de Carmona, Collada de Ozalba and Collada de la Hoz, before reaching the final 2.5km slope that will lead them to the Santo Toribio de Liébana Monastery, where we expect to see a spectacular finale.
Stage 18: Armee's maiden win; Froome strikes back
For the second day in a row, the Vuelta a España celebrated a first-time stage winner. In Thursday’s stage 18, Sander Armée (Lotto-Soudal) was the man of the hour, attacking out of the day’s breakaway to win in Santo Toribio de Liébana, Spain. Stage 5 winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) was second, and Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) finished third.
“That’s fantastic, it’s the best place to win a race. This is already my eighth year as a pro rider so I had to wait quite a long time to win a race,” said Armée.
Skirmishes continued among the GC riders. Although the GC leaderboard didn’t change, Chris Froome (Sky) put in a dig on the short finish climb to claw back time on Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). The Italian is now 1:37 behind in second place overall. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) kept his third-place position, 2:17 in arrears.
Top 15, stage 18
1. Sander Armée (BEL/LOT), in 4h09:39.
2. Alexey Lutsenko (KAZ/AST), at 0:31.
3. Giovanni Visconti (ITA/BAH) 0:46.
4. Alexis Gougeard (FRA/ALM) 1:02.
5. José Joaquin Rojas (ESP/MOV) 1:06.
6. Alessandro De Marchi (ITA/BMC) 1:19.
7. Matteo Trentin (ITA/QST) 1:21.
8. Sergio Pardilla (ESP/CJR) 1:21.
9. Antwan Tolhoek (NED/LNL) 1:38.
10. Anthony Roux (FRA/FDJ) 1:42.
1. Christopher Froome (GBR/Sky), in 72h03:50.
2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH), at 1:37.
3. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) 2:17.
4. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 2:29.
5. Alberto Contador (ESP/TRE) 3:34.
6. Miguel Ángel López (COL/AST) 5:16.
7. Michael Woods (CAN/CAN) 6:33.
8. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 6:33.
9. Wouter Poels (NED/SKY) 6:47.
10. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 10:26.
“Today worked out perfectly in my favor,” said Froome. “It was a really tough stage. A lot of GC guys tried to attack in that penultimate climb. I think certainly some guys payed for their attacks yesterday.”
Astana’s Fabio Aru made the most bold play for time in the 169-kilometer stage. He attacked on the day’s second categorized climb and soloed over the final 40 kilometers. However, he only gained 12 seconds on Froome.
Throughout the stage, Armée tried to escape the 20-man breakaway. Riding without a 2018 contract, the Belgian escaped on the stage’s penultimate climb alongside Ag2r La Mondiale’s Alexey Gougeard. Movistar’s Marc Soler bridged up to the leaders after awhile. He led them over the penultimate climb, the Cat. 2 Collada de la Hoz.
“The cooperation wasn’t super, so I thought maybe I have to try something then on the second to last climb,” Armée, 31, said. “Gougeard went, and I jumped on his wheel and we had a small gap.”
On the run-in to the last climb, Gougeard, Alaphilippe, and Lutsenko caught the lead trio. With about 10km to go, Lutsenko, Armée, and Alaphilippe got a gap on their fellow breakaway riders.
Armée and Lutsenko dropped Alaphilippe inside of the final four kilometers. Then, Lutsenko led under the 1km to go banner. The two were playing games and Visconi crept into sight behind.
“I knew on the false flat if I went full there no one would come back, and then it was just Lutsenko who followed,” Armée added.
“He’s a real good finisher. I knew I had to drop him. I never came off the big chainring. I knew if I did that I could win the race.”
On the steepest point of the 2.1km finish climb, Lutsenko faltered and Armée rode clear.
“In this Vuelta I got a chance to put myself in a free role and do my own race. This is the third time I’ve been in a breakaway,” said Armée. “I felt better and better during the stage. I knew I’d be close and went full-gas to the finish line.”
With multiple riders at Froome’s disposal, Sky ramped up the pace into the final climb.
Froome accelerated with 600m to go and Nibali could not respond. Contador followed then went to the front to push on. Cannondale-Drapac’s Michael Woods was right behind all the way to the finish.
Friday’s stage should provide one more opportunity for breakaway artists. The 149.7km stage from Caso. Parque Natural de Redes to Gijon has four categorized climbs, but only the first is Cat. 1.