Lampre’s Francesco Gavazzi salvaged his team’s poor Vuelta a Espana by outsprinting Quick Step’s Kristoff Van de Walle in Noja this afternoon.
Gavazzi, a stage winner in this year’s Tour of the Basque Country, broke clear with Van de Walle 1.5km from the finish having both been a part of a 17-man breakaway group which dominated the stage.
Race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) and Team Sky’s Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins finished within the peloton 7-42 after Gavazzi; the GC remains unchanged with Froome just 13 seconds behind Cobo.
A day for the breakaway
The escapees attacked 10km into the 174.6km stage, which took in five categorised climbs, including the first category Puerto de Alisas.
With none of the leaders a threat on GC, the main field were happy to let the group have a lead which was around the 10 minute mark throughout.
After a flurry of unsuccessful attacks, RadioShack’s Sergio Paulinho jumped clear on the Puerto de Fuente las Varas with 28.5km remaining, and gallantly held off a chase group of 10 riders until the final two-and-a-half kilometres.
Almost immediately Gavazzi and Van de Walle countered, and while Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski tried bridging the gap, the finale came down to a two-man showdown.
Gavazzi hit the front early, but the Belgian Van de Walle had no answer for his acceleration.
Skil-Shimano’s Alexandre Geniez led home the chasers to take third, 10 seconds down.
Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage 18: Solares to Noja, 174.6km
1. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre – ISD in 4-24-42
2. Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
3. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Skil-Shimano at 10 sec
4. Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
5. Matteo Montaguti (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale
6. Vladimir Gustov (Ukr) Saxo Bank-Sungard
7. Juan José Oroz (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana all at st
10. Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 15 sec
Overall classification after stage 18
1. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC in 74-04-05
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 13 secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky at 1-41
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 2-05
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at 3-48
6. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard-Trek at 4-13
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 4-31
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 4-45
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 5-20
10. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 5-33
Francesco Gavazzi wins the stage
Juan Jose Cobo safely stayed in the hot seat overall
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Vuelta a Espana 2011: Photo galleries
By Graham Watson
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