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Vuelta a Espana 2017: Armee wins Stage 18 to deny birthday boy Lutsenko

Martin James
7 Sep 2017

Chris Froome survives string of attacks then distances rivals on final climb

Belgium's Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) won an absorbing Stage 18 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, outgunning Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) on the Kazakh's birthday on the final 2km climb to the finish line in Santo Toribio de Liebana to claim victory after a 169km stage from Suances.

Armee and Lutsenko started the climb together, but the Astana man had no answer to Armee's pace and trailed in well behind, with Bahrain-Merida's Giovanni Visconti taking third.

The trio had been part of a large group of 20 that went clear earlier in the day and had remained together until the stage hit a succession of three moderate climbs in the second half of the stage.

The main favourites came in nearly 10 minutes behind, with Chris Froome surviving a number of attacks by all his chief GC rivals earlier in the day before attacking himself on run for the line to distance all but Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) and add a handful of seconds to his overall lead.

Astana's Fabio Aru was the only GC rider who took any time off Froome, getting clear of the peloton with around 30km to go and riding strongly but then fading to gain just 12 seconds on Froome, Contador and Woods on the line.

Battle-weary

Having dealt with the murderous Los Machucos and its insane gradients yesterday, the battle-weary peloton set out from Suances this morning knowing just one mountain stage remains in this year’s Vuelta.

Saturday’s assault on the Angliru will be the perfect arena to settle the fight for GC honours.

It’s a climb that has its own 20%-plus sections but keeps the hurt going for a lot longer – and finishes a lot higher – than Los Machucos.

Stage 18 may have been classed as a non-mountain stage, but it was far from flat – this is the Vuelta, after all – with a trio of classified climbs in the second half of the stage leading to a short and sharp uphill finish.

In other words, the recipe for another late Alberto Contador raid, and a chance for Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to test whether Chris Froome’s time losses yesterday were just the hangover from Tuesday’s time-trial, or a sign that the Team Sky rider is starting to fade.

Other than that it was a stage tailor-made for a successful breakaway, and a large group of 20 riders duly went off the front early on and built a big gap.

There were plenty of familiar faces. Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott) were in the break for the second day running, while Alaphilippe had teammate Matteo Trentin for company, looking for his fourth stage win and more points towards the points jersey.

Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas led the way over the first climb of the day on 110km, by which point the peloton trailed by upwards of 10 minutes.

Clearly the stage win would be fought out by the men up front, but in this most attacking of Vueltas the race favourites weren’t content with waiting for the final climb to the line to show their hand.

It all kicked off on the second climb of the day, the 3rd category Collada de Ozalba. First Ilnur Zakarin, fourth overall at 2:25sec, attacked alongside four Katusha teammates. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t allowed to get far, but that was just the start.

Aru and – inevitably – Contador were soon at it too, and even Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) briefly had a go. None of the moves had Team Sky in any real trouble, but they did greatly reduce the size of the peloton.

But Aru wasn’t done, and decided to push on alone, quickly opening a gap of a minute to the peloton.

Onto the third climb of the day, and further aggression from Contador reduced the peloton to barely a dozen riders – although three of them were Team Sky riders support staff for Froome.

The incessant up and down had taken its toll on the lead group too, and over the top of the climb, with around 30km still to ride, just five remained: Armee, Marc Soler (Movistar), Alaphilippe, Lutsenko and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R).

Coming off the climb, with others starting to get back in touch, Armee, Alaphilippe and Lutsenko forged ahead together.

Alaphilippe quickly dropped behind once the near-10% gradients kicked in with around 2km to go, before Armee made his move with 800m to go, crossing the line comfortably ahead to claim his debut Grand Tour stage win.

Vuelta a Espana 2017 Stage 18: Suances - Santo Toribio de Liebana 169km, result

1. Sander Armee (BEL) Lotto-Soudal, 4:09:39
2. Alexey Lutsenko (KAZ) Astana, at 0:31
3. Giovanni Visconti (ITA) Bahrain-Merida, at 0:46
4. Alexis Gougeard (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1:02
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar, at 1:06
6. Alessandro De Marchi (ITA) BMC Racing, at 1:19
7. Matteo Trentin (ITA) Quick-Step Floors, at 1:21
8. Sergio Pardilla (ESP) Caja Rural, at same time
9. Antwan Tolhoek (NED) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1:38
10. Anthony Roux (FRA) FDJ, at 1:42

Vuelta a Espana 2017: General Classification after Stage 18

1. Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky, 72:03:50
2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Bahrain-Merida, at 1:37
3. Wilco Kelderman (NED) Team Suweb, at 2:17
4. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) Katusha-Alpecin, at 2:29
5. Alberto Contador (ESP) Trek-Segafredo, at 3:34
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) Astana, at 5:16
7. Michael Woods (CAN) Cannondale-Drapac, at 6.33
8. Fabio Aru (ITA) Astana, at same time 
9. Wout Poels (NED) Team Sky, at 6:47
10. Steven Kruijswijk (NED) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 10:26

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