Ireland's Philip Deignan gave Cervélo their second stage victory of the Tour of Spain when he powered across the finish line at Avila ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas).
The 26-year-old Deignan made a long sprint for the line to which Kreuziger was completely unable to respond. Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang (SaxoBank) finished third.
It was his Deignan's first victory since the Tour de Doubs in 2005 and Ireland's first in the Tour of Spain since Sean Kelly won a stage into Collado Villalba way back in 1988, when he also won overall. It was also the first country's first in a Grand Tour since Stephen Roche won at La Borboule in 1992.
"It's been a great year for Irish cycling," Deignan recognised afterwards. "Dan Martin (Garmin-Slipstream) has been doing really well, and Nico [Nicolas Roche - Ag2R] as well. A result like this just caps it all off."
Deignan and Kreuziger had formed part of a 16 rider break on stage crossing the sierras of Madrid from south to north in freezing cold weather. Perhaps discouraged by the sudden drop in temperatures, or by the organisation's rather odd decision to place the hardest climb of the day first, not last, the overall leaders barely reacted on the first category Puerto de Miares, when the break of the day went clear.
Deignan and Kreuziger were amongst the most active riders of the 16 when the collaboration ended on the day's last climb, the third category Alto del Boqueron. When the Czech rider made a long drive on the fast descent, Deignan was quick to go with him.
The two worked well together on the final run-in to Avila, and surprisingly Kreuziger did not attack on the cobbled section leading into the city itself.
In fact it did not seem as if the Czech had any power left at all when Deignan accelerated away with 200 metres to go for a well-deserved win.
The Cervélo pro has also shot up the overall classification as a result of his day-long breakaway, moving from 18th to ninth, 7-49 behind Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D'Epargne).
Valverde had to contend with some last-minute sprinting by Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), which allowed the Australian to regain a second overall on Holland's Robert Gesink, but that was the toughest challenge the Spaniard faced all day.
"I think I'm in a position to win overall," Valverde stated, now with just two hurdles to face: tomorrow's three first category climbs on the stage from Avila to La Granja, together with Saturday's final time trial in Toledo. If he gets over them, then he'll be home and dry for the first major Tour of his career.
Garmin-Slipstream's Tom Danielson has dropped out of the Vuelta due to illness. The American was sitting in ninth position overall before stage 18, but dropped out of the race during the day due to an on-going respiratory infection.
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage 18, Talavera de la Reina-Avila, 165km
1. Philip Deignan (Ire) Cervelo
2. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas at 3sec
3. Jacob Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank at 16sec
4. Manuel Vazquez (Spa) Contentpolis-Ampo at 35sec
5. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 41sec
6. Mikael Cherel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 42sec
7. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis
8. Remy Di Gregorio (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
9. Jesus Hernandez (Spa) Astana
10. Jesus Del Nero (Spa) Fuji-Servetto all at same time.
Overall classification after stage 18
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 32sec
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-10
4. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 1-29
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 1-51
6. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 1-54
7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 5-54
8. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre at 6-35
9. Philip Deignan (Ire) Cervelo at 7-49
10. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto at 10-45
Alejandro Valverde keeps the race lead
Philip Deignan: happy with his victory
Cadel Evans (right) leads home the main contenders' group
Deignan celebrates his win
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Latest news and features
Freire set for retirement in 2010
Unlucky Horner crashes out of Vuelta
Wegelius abandons the Vuelta
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Who will win?
Vinokourov back with Astana for the Vuelta
Britain and Ireland well represented in Vuelta
2009 Vuelta route favours climbers
Cycling Weekly's Rider Profiles: Index
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage reports
Stage 17: Roux takes solo win
Stage 16: Greipel storms to third win
Stage 15: Boom solos to win
Stage 14: Valverde suffers but strengthens lead
Stage 13: Unlucky Evans loses time on rivals
Stage 12: Hesjedal wins second stage for Garmin
Stage 11: Farrar takes first grand tour victory
Stage 10: Gerrans takes breakaway victory
Stage nine: Cesar wins as Valverde leads in la Vuelta
Stage eight: Cunego takes first mountain stage of 2009 Vuelta
Stage seven: Cancellara outpaces Millar in TT
Stage six: Bozic surprises sprint rivals to take win
Stage five: Greipel wins again and takes race lead
Stage four: Greipel wins after big crash wipes out bunch
Stage three: Henderson wins stage
Stage two: Ciolek takes first road stage, Hammond third
Stage one: Cancellara wins Vuelta opener
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Photos
Stage 16 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 15 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 14 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 13 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 12 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham WatsonStage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
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