Five talking points from stage 18 of the Vuelta a España

The day's big talking points: Roche is back; Dumoulin safe; Rodriguez and Valverde points battle; No alliance; Talansky and Terpstra out

Roche never gives up

Nicholas Roche wins Stage 18 of the 2015 Vuelta Espana from Haimar Zubeldia

Nicholas Roche wins Stage 18 of the 2015 Vuelta Espana from Haimar Zubeldia (Watson)

Nicolas Roche has marked his opening year with Team Sky with a mix of solid domestique duties at the Tour and attacking moves at the Vuelta. In the past, Sky has been accused of racing conservatively, but giving the signing the Irishman and giving him a free hand during this Vuelta a España has been a great decision that has now paid off.

Roche’s Vuelta started very strongly as he worked his way into breaks and came close to stage victory: placing third on stage two and fourth on stage four. Then a bad crash on stage 10 nearly scuppered his entire race, but he hung in there and is now evidently back on top form, taking his career second Vuelta stage win after stage two in 2013.

His duel with Hamiar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing), both riders suffering with tired legs after a day in the break, was one of the 2015 race’s finest showdowns, with Roche getting the win he has worked tirelessly to achieve this Vuelta, and his first for Sky.

Dumoulin stays safe in the race lead

Fabio Aru and Tom Dumoulin on stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana (Watson)

Fabio Aru repeatedly attacked Tom Dumoulin during stage 18 (Watson)

Despite numerous attacks and counter-attacks in the finale of today’s hilly stage, all of the main favourites finished in a compact group in Riaza. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) retained the red jersey that he reclaimed after his imperious performance in yesterday’s time trial, and the super-slim three-second advantage he holds over main rival Fabio Aru (Astana).

Aru rode aggressively, attacking Dumoulin six times, but each time the contenders group came back together.

Opportunities are now running out for Aru, or anyone else, to overthrow the solid-looking Dumoulin with just three days remaining in the race. Tomorrow’s stage to Ávila offers little chance, with only a short uphill kick to the line. Saturday’s stage 20 is a better bet for Aru, with four categorised climbs. However, the last climb is situated 10km from the line in Cercedilla and Dumoulin has already shown that he can descend with the best.

After three weeks of racing, the Vuelta is still wide open. Whether it is Aru or Dumoulin that takes the victory in Madrid, we will have a new Grand Tour winner, and one worthy of the honour.

Rodriguez and Valverde scrapping for points

Joaquin Rodriguez on stage eighteen of the 2015 Tour of Spain (Watson)

Joaquin Rodriguez on stage eighteen of the 2015 Tour of Spain (Watson)

With the overall classification seemingly locked between Dumoulin and Aru, it looks like Spaniards Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) have turned their attention from the red to the green jersey.

Rodriguez wears the green jersey of points classification leader and started the stage six points ahead of Valverde in the competition. Despite the stage victory already sealed up by Roche, Valverde sprinted as hard as he could to the line – eyeing the points on offer.

In the event, Valverde placed fourth behind Roche, Zubeldia and Caja Rural’s José Goncalves, another survivor from the day’s escape. For his efforts, he is now just two points behind Rodriguez. That could all change tomorrow.

Watch: Vuelta a Espana essential guide

Dutch alliance? No thanks

Giant-Alpecin chases on stage eighteen of the 2015 Tour of Spain

Giant-Alpecin chases on stage 18 of the 2015 Tour of Spain (Watson)

It’s unusual for the details of a behind-the-scenes alliance between teams to get out into the public domain, but reports suggest that Dutch outfit LottoNL-Jumbo offered to assist Giant-Alpecin and Dumoulin in order to secure the Netherlands first Vuelta victory since 1980.

Such alliances aren’t strictly by the rules, and it’s probably because German-based squad Giant-Alpecin turned LottoNL down that we heard about it at all. Aru, on the other hand, has only his Astana team for support.

The Vuelta, though, is no stranger to alliances that have shaped the outcome of the race – notably ‘home’ Spanish riders and teams working together to overthrow a rider from another nation who is threatening the overall classification.

The classic case in history is, of course, the 1985 edition of the race where a Spanish multi-team coalition saw Scotsman Robert Millar lose his race lead on the penultimate day to Pedro Delgado. The race would, among Millar’s fans at least, be known as the ‘Stolen Vuelta’.

Talansky and Terpstra are out

Andrew Talansky on stage seventeen of the 2015 Tour of Spain (Watson)

Andrew Talansky making his final appearance at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana on Wednesday (Watson)

Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) both withdrew from the Vuelta ahead of today’s stage.

American 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné winner Talansky has been struggling throughout the race and withdrew after suffering with a cough. He was down in 98th place after placing 154th in yesterday’s time trial stage, well over seven minutes adrift of winner Dumoulin. It was an uncommonly poor result for the American TT champion.

Dutchman Terpstra pulled out after whacking his knee during the time trial. According to his team, he has now travelled to Belgium for medical attention ahead of his participation in the World Championships at the end of the month. Terpstra was one place ahead of Talansky on GC, in 97th.