Sky leader gains 21 seconds on Vuelta a España rival Vincenzo Nibali after tactical plan for final climbs works to perfection on stage 18

The Vuelta a España’s rollercoaster final week continued on the short climb to the stage 18 finish at Santo Torinio de Liébana, where Chris Froome regained half of the time he lost to Vincenzo Nibali on Los Machucos 24 hours earlier.

The Briton came in 21 seconds ahead of the Italian, pushing his lead out to 1-37 at the end of a stage where Sky’s tactical plan worked to perfection.

Froome revealed Sky had decided in their pre-stage briefing to tackle the short climb to the finish very aggressively rather than focusing their attention on Nibali or any of the other GC contenders.

>>> Five talking points from stage 18 of the Vuelta a España

“Rather than watching anyone else, we had our own plan today and part of that strategy was to see in the final whether anyone was exposed. We went into the final climb with the aim of setting a really high tempo, and the guys did a great job of doing that,” Froome explained.

He added: “I was feeling a lot better today [than at Los Machucos]. As soon as I made an acceleration on that last climb, Wout Poels got on the radio and told me, ‘Nibali’s dropped, Nibali’s dropped. Keep pushing.’ That was exactly the result we were looking for today, so I’m really happy with that.”

Asked if he was surprised to hear that Nibali was losing ground, Froome said: “I think a lot of guys perhaps paid the price for making such a big effort yesterday at Los Machucos. We’ve got something similar to that climb ahead on the Angliru [on Saturday]. Hopefully, I’ll have a better day there.”

Amidst the smiles and back-slapping at the Sky bus, Poels said he felt the team had carried out their tactical plan to perfection. “We wanted to ride aggressively on the last climb and show everyone that yesterday was just one bad day, and we did exactly that,” said the Dutchman.

“That was a big 21 seconds to gain, especially on a 2k climb and after what happened yesterday.”