Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana ended in yet another mass sprint and once again it was a new victor who emerged. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-BikeExchange) was first across the line in Gandia, with Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) in 2nd and Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC) in 3rd place.
Today’s 200km stage, which started in Requena, presented the sprinters with one of the few opportunities to decide the stage in this year’s Vuelta and so it was always going to be hard for the opportunists to try and make an impact on the stage. 5 riders still tried their luck in an early breakaway but with a number of sprint teams happy to help set the pace, the break was always coming back.
Nic Dougall was our man doing a massive amount of work on the front of the peloton today and the South African strongman was able to continue his pacing work right up until 11km to go, when the break was caught. Then our Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka riders focused their energy on delivering Kristian Sbaragli to a good position for the sprint finale.
It was a technical final 10km with numerous roundabouts, changes in direction and road width. Tyler Farrar showed his class though and was able to keep Jaco Venter and Sbaragli at the head of affairs and out of the wind coming into the last 3km. Sbaragli was then left to surf the wheels on the run in home and all looked very promising after the final right hand bend with 600m to go.
There was no team in real control of the sprint though and like the rest of the sprints at this year’s Vuelta, it was very much a lottery when trying to pick who might be the strongest wheel to follow. As the riders spread across the road before the line, you could throw a blanket over the top 10 contenders and Sbaragli had to settle for 9th at the finish.
Nic Dougall – Rider
We were hoping a small break would go today so that those teams interested in a sprint, like us, would be able to keep things under control. That was exactly what happened but the five riders up front still got a gap of over 6 minutes, so there was some riding to be done from the peloton. After a really tough Vuelta, I was happy with how I was able to contribute today. Kristian was able to sprint for the win so that was good, that we were in contention once again. Now I’m looking forward to completing this home stretch we find ourselves in, with just 3 stages to go.