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Vuelta’17 St18: Send In The Armée!
Stage Report: After the excitement of the last two days, Thursday's stage 18 could have been an unofficial rest day, but in Vuelta a España style it was far from it. The stage was won by Sander Armée from the break, but behind the attacks came thick and fast.

Sander Armée took the stage honors 10 minutes before the GC men

Belgium's Sander Armée gave Lotto Soudal its third Vuelta 2017 stage win with a strong kick to drop his last companion from the break of the day, stage 5 winner and birthday boy, Astana's Alexey Lutsenko. Behind the escape; Fabio Aru (Astana) made a long range attack, but in the words of overall leader, Chris Froome, "I have over 5 minutes on Aru, so there was no big worry." Alberto Contador was on the attack again, but the Sky team had him under control. The man from Pinto had a few attempts which split the GC group. On the final rise to the finish line Froome put in a big jump, but Contador and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) held his wheel. The others lost a little time with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) dropping 21 seconds on the red jersey.

Vuelta a España technical director Fernando Escartín previewed the stage: "Mid-mountain. The San Martín mountain pass will await the peloton 16.6 kilometers from the finish-line. A short ascent with very tough slopes that will result in important differences to the general classification. If the leaders lose their concentration, even for a second, we could see some surprises." He wasn't totally correct as the GC men stayed fairly close, but not for the want of trying.

The break of the day

Stage 18 was no day off for the bunch, but the break did take over 13 minutes at one point

Vuelta stage 18 was said to favor the attackers and Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal) made the most of it. The Belgian dominated his breakaway companions to claim his first professional victory at Santo Toribio de Liebana. He got rid of Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) in the last climb to the finish, where overall leader Chris Froome (Sky) gained 21 seconds on Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). The race leader was able to match the many attacks from his rivals, mostly from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and finally accelerated in the final kilometer of an action-packed stage.

'Berty' was on the attack again

The battle for the breakaway was immediately on and it took 58km for a group of 20 riders to get ahead: Julian Alaphilippe and Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott), Jose Joaquin Rojas and Marc Soler (Movistar), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Clément Chevrier and Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Toms Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac), Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Sander Armée (Lotto-Soudal), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Jérémy Maison and Anthony Roux (FDJ), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Aldemar Reyes (Manzana-Postobon).

Chris Froome and his Sky team closed everything down

They extended their lead to a maximum of 13:15 (the biggest lead of this years race) as they entered the last 80km of the stage, a rollercoaster with 4 climbs including Collada de la Hoz, where Alberto Contador tore the race apart on his way to the win at Fuente Dé back in 2012.

Quick-Step Floor's Julian Alaphilippe was in the action but faded to 13th place

Alexis Gougeard and Sander Armée jumped ahead of the front group on that climb. They were joined by Marc Soler at the summit, then Julian Alaphilippe and Alexey Lutsenko bridged the gap on the downhill. Among the GC contenders, Alberto Contador accelerated on many occasions but Chris Froome's Team Sky controlled the situation. Fabio Aru (Astana) was able to get away and kept going with a solo effort to the finish, only to finish 12 seconds ahead of Chris Froome.

Fabio Aru went solo from the GC group, but only gained 12 seconds

Armée and Lutsenko got rid of their companions on the final descent and fought it out on the final climb of Santo Toribio de Liebana. The Belgian turned the screw 600m from the finish line.

Sander Armée gave Lotto Soudal another Vuelta victory

Contador, Froome and Woods finished together with a little advantage

Froome accelerated at the same point, 10 minutes later, and only Contador and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) could follow while the other GC men lots a few seconds, Vincenzo Nibali lost 21.

Froome's attack - Étape 18 / Stage 18 - La... por la_vuelta

Stage 18 winner, Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal) said after the finish: "That's fantastic. It's the best place to win a race. This is already my eight year as a pro rider. I had to wait quite a long time to win a race. I came close a couple of times, I did my work for the team… but at this Vuelta I get the chance to put myself in a free role and do my own race. It was the third time I was in the breakaway, I felt better and better during the stage and I just went full gas on the last climb. On the second climb I already started to attack because we had a quite a big gap over the peloton but the cooperation wasn't superb. It was way too early. Then, (Alexis) Gougeard went on the second-last climb and I jumped on his wheel. We had a small gap over some other guys, who came back on the downhill. I knew on the false flat that, if we went full gas, who was kept behind would never come back. I attacked a couple of times. (Julian) Alaphilippe was in the wheel and he said he didn't have good legs and he couldn't pull anymore, but you never know because he's a really good finisher. I knew I had to drop him and then I knew I had my chance, because in this type of finish, I can do quite well. I just did my own pace in the last kilometers."

Keep it PEZ for the big Vuelta finalé.

Vuelta a España Stage 18 Result:
1. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal in 4:09:39
2. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana at 0:31
3. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 0:46
4. Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:02
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar at 1:06
6. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC at 1:19
7. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Quick-Step Floors at 1:21
8. Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
9. Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 1:38
10. Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ at 1:42
11. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe at 1:57
12. Aldemar Reyes (Col) Manzana Postobon at 2:02
13. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors at 2:20
14. Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates at 2:49
15. Stéphane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis at 3:26
16. Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar at 3:41
17. Toms Skujins (Lat) Cannondale-Drapac at 3:57
18. Jeremy Maison (Fra) FDJ at 4:14
19. Clement Chevrier (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 9:31
20. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 9:56
21. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 10:08
22. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac
23. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
24. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 10:12
25. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin.

Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 18:
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky in 72:03:50
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 1:37
3. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 2:17
4. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 2:29
5. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 3:34
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 5:16
7. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 6:33
8. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
9. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 6:47
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 10:26
11. David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 10:31
12. Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-Scott at 11:57
13. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC at 12:06
14. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates at 13:32
15. Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA at 15:41
16. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Sky at 25:14
17. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC at 27:09
18. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar at 32:21
19. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 42:10
20. Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates at 44:45
21. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 48:15
22. Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 52:57
23. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott at 55:12
24. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 1:00:36
25. Luis Angel Maté Mardones (Spa) Cofidis at 1:07:22.


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