Jens Voigt (CSC) won his first stage at the Giro d?Italia in Varese on Thursday, with a lone attack on two laps of the circuit that will be used for the world road race championships in September.

Voigt was part of the 12-rider break that formed just eight kilometres into the 147km stage as the bunch rode a circuit of the Mendrisio 2009 world championship course.

The bunch was happy to let them go clear in the rain and the ?dirty dozen? quickly opened a six-minute lead. It could have been even bigger but the presence of Felix Cardenas (Barloworld) in the break, 15th overall at 11-24, meant that Astana and the other top ten riders had to be vigilant.

World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) were also in the move and thinking about winning the stage. Bettini has still to win a Giro stage while wearing the rainbow jersey but missed out yet again when Voigt jumped away with 35km to go.

It was a long way out but the big German gave it everything as his rivals chased each other as much as Voigt.

He gradually carved out a lead of a minute and was never seen again. He won in the centre of Varese 1-07 ahead of Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r). Gabriele Bosisio (LPR) was fourth in the same time. Bennati was fifth at 2-04 and Bettini was a disappointed sixth, patting Bennati on the back after trying to beat him in the sprint.

Astana brought home the bunch, 7-51 behind Voigt and so Alberto Contador safely kept the pink jersey and his 41-second lead on main rival Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval).

“My directeur sportif told me to be carefully and asked me if it was really worth it going in an attack with so many strong rivals but I wanted to win and so went for it,” Voigt said.

“In a situation like that it?s better to be the first rider to attack because the others always watch other and nobody wants to chases.”

The Giro heads into the Italian Alps north of Milan tomorrow (Friday) for the first of two final mountain stages that will be key in deciding who win the pink jersey.

Friday?s 228km 19th stage from Legnano to Monte Pora includes the Passo del Vivione and the Passo della Presolana before the climb up to the finish.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008 STAGE 18: RESULTS

1. Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC 147km in 3hours 22min 46secs

2. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Quick Step at 1min 7secs

3. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r

4. Gabriele Bosisio (Ita) LPR all at same time

5. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas at 2min 4secs

6. Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step

7. Felix Cardenas (Col) Barloworld

8. Alan Perez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi

9. Mauricio Ardila (Col) Rabobank all at same time

10. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne at 2min 6secs

British

73. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 7min 51secs

111. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld at 10min 54secs

112. David Millar (GB) Slipstream at same time

137. Steve Cummings (GB) Barloworld at 12min 35secs

139. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road

145. Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road all at same time.

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 18

1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 75hours 45min 17secs

2. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval at 41secs

3. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Diquigiovanni-Androni at 1min 21secs

4. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre at 2min

5. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 2min 5secs

6. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) LPR at 2min 18secs

7. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 2min 47secs

8. Emanuele Sella (Ita) CSF Navigare at 4min 25secs

9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence-Lotto at 4min 26secs

10. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) CSF Navigare at 5min 25secs

British

89. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 1hour 43min 37secs

95. David Millar (GB) Slipstream at 1hour 52min 25secs

119. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld at 2hours 17min 17secs

126. Steve Cummings (GB) Barloworld at 2hours 25min 57secs

138. Mark Cavendish (GB) High Road at 2hours 48min 05secs

139. Bradley Wiggins (GB) High Road at 2hours 51min 57secs

Giro d'Italia 2008World Champion Paolo Bettini took an active part in the day’s big escape

Giro d'Italia 2008Giro leader Alberto Contador tucks into his favourite race snack – a banana

Giro d'Italia 2008Points leader Daniele Bennati took part in the escape of the day

Giro d'Italia 2008Not sure what Alberto Contador has pulled out of his pocket, but Andreas Kloden doesn’t look impressed

Giro d'Italia 2008Jens Voigt solos to win stage 18 of the 2008 Giro

All photos by Graham Watson

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 17: Cav gifts Greipel the stage

Stage 16: Pellizotti wins mountain time trial

Stage 15: Sella strikes again in the mountains

Stage 14: Sella wins first Giro mountains stage

Stage 13: Easy victory for super-fast Cavendish

Stage 12: Bennati gets photo finish verdict over Cavendish

Stage 11: Bertolini wins hilly stage

Stage 10: Bruseghin wins Giro d’Italia time trial

Stage nine: Cavendish misses out in sprint

Stage eight: Ricco wins again

Stage seven: Di Luca, Ricco and Contador gain time on rivals

Stage six: Italians clean up

Stage five: Millar denied by snapped chain

Stage four: Cavendish wins

Stage three: Bennati romps home

Stage two: Ricco wins Giro d’Italia second stage

Stage one TTT: Slipstream wins Giro team time trial

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS

Six Brits finish mountain time trial [stage 16]

Cavendish disappointed after missing out in Giro sprint

Can Cavendish win the Giro today? [stage 12]

Aggressive Cummings comes away empty handed [stage six]

Millar speaks out after missing out in Giro [stage five]

Reaction to Cavendish’s Giro stage win

Cav hits back at Pozzato’s snipe

Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]

Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success

Bettini looking for final Giro glory

Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro

Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive

Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS

Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week three – new photos added daily

Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week two

Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery, week one.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES

Five days to go, what’s in store?

Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 27)

Cycling Weekly’s all-time list of British pro winners

Giro d’Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 19)

Rest day 1: How the favourites are doing

Giro Britannia part two: From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia

Tuesday Comment (May 13): Why Cavendish is a bona fide world-class star

Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy

Giro d’Italia 2008 preview

Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?

Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming

Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule