Vuelta a Espana, stage 18 – live updates

The Vuelta a España returns to the mountains during Thursday's stage towards Becerril de la Sierra - EPA
The Vuelta a España returns to the mountains during Thursday’s stage towards Becerril de la Sierra – EPA

4:15PM

Roglic tightens grip on leader’s jersey

Primoz Roglic beats Alejandro Valverde in a sprint for send place, and with that the Jumbo-Visma rider earned himself a 6sec time bonus which, in fact, helped him extend his lead on general classification.

4:13PM

Higuita wins stage 17 at the Vuelta!

He’s done it. Sergio Higuita has just won his first race as a professional. Bravo son, bravo.

4:12PM

1km to go

Out of his saddle, the young Colombian is squeezing every last ounce of energy he has through those cranks as he edges towards a quite spectacular and memorable stage win at the Vuelta.

4:11PM

1.5km to go

Sergio Higuita is holding on: 23sec now.

4:11PM

2km to go

Sergio Higuita’s lead has dropped to below 30sec, but surely he’s just a minute or so away from winning his first race as a professional, isn’t he?

4:08PM

4km to go

Following that lovely looking descent, Sergio Higuita is now onto the final 4km drag towards the finishing line. His advantage has barely dropped despite this strong group of Primoz Roglic et al in pursuit.

4:06PM

5km to go

Sergio Higuita is not giving up, and why should he? The EF Education First rider’s lead has dropped to 35sec, but can the relatively inexperienced rider hold off this powerful quartet of chasers?

4:03PM

10km to go

Still very little movement at the front of the race, Sergio Higuita hanging on to his lead but he has just another 6km of racing before the road kicks back up again. As it stands, Alejandro Valverde will be climbing to second overall on general classification while Miguel Ángel López could, possibly, go third if Nairo Quintana and Tadej Pogacar keep shipping time at the rate they are currently doing.

3:59PM

13km to go

Sergio Higuita is showing no sign of slowing and the gap is showing no sign of reducing. Nairo Quintana and Tadej Pogacar, meanwhile, are almost a minute down on Primoz Roglic et al.

3:57PM

17km to go

Sergio Higuita is riding in the super-tuck position as he descends at breakneck speed off the other side of this final climb. His lead is holding at around 40sec. Once he hits the bottom of this descent, there’s one final little test: a short climb of around 4km where the Colombian will be wary of a late ambush.

3:55PM

20km to go

Miguel Ángel López, Alejandro Valverde, Primoz Roglic and Rafal Majka are riding a team time trial over the flat section atop this final mountain of the day as they attempt to close the gap on Sergio Higuita while also putting further time into Tadej Pogacar and Nairo Quintana.

3:46PM

25.9km to go

Sergio Higuita goes over the summit where there is a flat section before the road descends towards the line. As it stands Higuita has climbed a place on virtual general classification courtesy of his 45sec lead over the chasing group. Miguel Ángel López has leapfrogged Tadej Pogacar to top spot in the virtual young rider classification.

3:44PM

26km to go

Tadej Pogacar is in no man’s land between Nairo Quintana who is, presumably, paying the price for yesterday’s hard work riding in the crosswinds, and the Primoz Roglic group. Sergio Higuita still leads the stage, but his advantage has dropped to 47sec as he edges towards the final summit of the penultimate mountain stage at this year’s Vuelta.

3:40PM

28km to go

Correction, Rafal Majka has managed to find his legs and has ridden over to the trio of Miguel Ángel López, Alejandro Valverde and Primoz Roglic. Sergio Higuita’s advantage over this quartet of riders has dropped to below a minute. 

3:39PM

Superman López sets off | 30km to go

Miguel Ángel López has had enough and the Colombian – yes, another – has attacked. Alejandro Valverde was able to respond and took with him race leader Primoz Roglic while Nairo Quintana, Tadej Pogacar, Rafal Majka were unable to follow.

3:34PM

Geoghegan Hart attacks | 31.5km to go

Tao Geoghegan Hart attacks off the front of the general classification group who are riding as if they are about to contest a match sprint on the track. Eyeballing each other as they watch and wait for somebody to make their move. Either way, Geoghegan Hart attempted to take advantage of the situation but his attack was short-lived. The Ineos rider is back in the group now and, as it stands, the only person who appears to have gained any advantage out of the group’s insistence on watching each other is Sergio Higuita whose lead has increased to 1min 30sec.

3:30PM

32.5km to go

Sergio Higuita’s advantage has grown out to 1min 18sec. Meanwhile, further down the road Tao Geoghegan Hart put in a short dig but was closed down by Miguel Ángel López. That will not please Geoghegan Hart who is thinking about the stage win today, while López, Alejandro Valverde and the rest are, probably, only thinking about the general classification battle. Geoghegan Hart really needs to go it alone if he wants to challenge for the stage.

3:24PM

35km to go

Sergio Higuita has increased his lead to over a minute. That has just been confirmed, but the young Colombian who is making his grand tour debut here at the Vuelta a España still has this category one climb to tackle – and the descent over the other side – if he is to win the biggest race of his career. With the likes of Miguel Ángel López, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde in pursuit, though, I’m not too sure too many people will be backing the EF Education First rider right now.

3:20PM

38km to go

Primoz Roglic, by the way has two Jumbo-Visma team-mate alongside him now after Neilson Powless dropped back to assist with Sepp Kuss. Movistar team-mates Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler are also in there as is Tadej Pogacar, Rafal Majka and Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto-Soudal). They are about to increase in numbers as they near the Miguel Ángel López and Louis Meintjes groups.

3:16PM

40km to go

Depending on who you want to believe, race leader Sergio Higuita’s advantage on the chasing group is either 10sec or 45sec. Either way, with a 14km climb to follow shortly I just cannot see the 22 year-old holding off the Astana-powered pack in pursuit.

3:13PM

42km to go

Nick Schultz has now joined up with Miguel Ángel López’s group. All getting very lively and there are some very strong and hungry riders in those two groups with different riders having different ambitions here today. The majority will be thinking about the stage win, but López will presumably be hoping to gain time on general classification and break into the top three.

3:10PM

45km to go

Stage leader Sergio Higuita has around another 5km to descend off this penultimate climb of the day and the Colombian has a lead of around 15sec on the chasing group that features Louis Meintjes, Wout Poels, Óscar Rodríguez and Hermann Pernsteiner. Miguel Ángel López is around another 15sec down the road.

3:04PM

51km to go

Tao Geoghegan Hart is hanging on riding fifth wheel as the Astana duo set a fierce pace on a long sweepeing descent. Meanwhile, further up the road Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) has managed to squirrel away off the front and has found himself a 10sec gap.

3:00PM

55km to go

Miguel Ángel López has managed to ride through past Tao Geoghegan Hart, the Ineos rider though is digging deep in an effort to hold his wheel. Omar Fraile has, as expected, dropped back to help team-mate Miguel Ángel López. Nelson Oliveira is in this group, as is Jonas Koch. Back in the general classification group, Primoz Roglic has reacted and is leading the chase now.

2:57PM

58km to go

Primoz Roglic, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Tadej Pogacar and Rafal Majka are all in the group that is being led by Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), but young the Briton James Knox has been dropped. Further up the road that injection in pace from the general classification riders has eaten into the lead of the breakaway riders. By the way, Miguel Ángel López has Astana team-mate Omar Fraile up the road ready to drop back to help the Colombian who could today fight his way back into the top three on general classification.

2:52PM

59km to go

Miguel Ángel López(Astana) has attacked off the front of the group featuring Primoz Roglic. The race leader has not responded, but has Neilson Powless up the road should he require assistance later in the race. Sepp Kuss is now on the front working hard on behalf of the maillot rojo.

2:48PM

61km to go

Sergio Higuita (EF Education First), Wout Poels (Ineos) and Óscar Rodríguez (Euskadi-Murias) have managed to bridge over to Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) while Jonas Koch (CCC) was unable to hold the wheel of the South African climber and has been dropped.

2:41PM

Action stations | 63km to go

Hello, what’s this? With the road starting to rise ever steeper, Manuele Boaro (Astana) shifted onto the front of the peloton. The Italian has a handful of team-mates on his wheel and they are riding hard. This dramatic increase in pace has started to make a few riders – including Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) – further down the pack suffer. One can only assume this an a long-range effort to isolate race leader Primoz Roglic from his team-mates before attacking him later in the stage.

2:33PM

65km to go

Jonas Koch and Louis Meintjes are now edging up the side of the Puerto de la Morcuera, a second ascent of the category one mountain but up a different side from earlier. The duo has managed to increase its lead on Tao Geoghegan Hart’s group to 42sec, the peloton a further 4min 20sec down the road. Incidentally, Trek-Segafredo have put a handful of riders on the front of the peloton, but I have no idea why: their highest placed man on general classification is Peter Stetina and he is over an hour down. The US team has nobody in the breakaway. Baffling . . . unless they are looking to close the gap and set up Gianluca Brambilla?

2:29PM

69km

That pairing of Jonas Koch and Louis Meintjes has put a handful of seconds into the breakaway. I’l be honest and admit this, but I have never heard of German rider Koch. I’ve just checked up the 26 year-old and learned this is his first ever grand tour. He has also started one monument – this year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège –where he finished 77th.

2:23PM

70km to go

A slight gap has formed in the leading group with Jonas Koch and Louis Meintjes pushing on slightly, while the gap to the peloton – which is still being pulled along by Jumbo-Visma – has reduced to 4min 45sec.

2:17PM

75km to go

The peloton has now passed through the feedzone and a number of the the riders, including race leader Primoz Roglic, are tucking into their mini-sized cans of Coca-Cola which you only ever see at bike races and on airlines. Their gap on the stage leaders increased over 5min 30sec as they slowed up to eat and drink, but having had their lunch have pressed on again in an effort to reduce that gap to a shade above 5min.

2:08PM

80km to go

The gap between Tao Geoghegan Hart et al and the peloton is at 5min.

Lunchtime for the riders as they pass through the feedzone where the riders collect their musettes from the team soigneurs stood at the roadside. These cotton bags will be filled with sandwiches, rice cakes and perhaps an energy bar and gel or two and perhaps a treat or two.

2:05PM

85km to go

Not a great deal happening out n the road right now as the stage leaders continue to descend off the second climb of the day, their advantage holding at around the 4min 40sec mark.

1:54PM

90km to go

Geoffrey Bouchard has secured his polka dot jersey for another day having gone over the Puerto de la Morcuera first to scoop up 10 points ahead of  Tao Geoghegan Hart (six points), Wout Poels (four points), Nelson Oliveira (two points), Omar Fraile (one point). Bouchard now has 66 points in the mountains classification and there are just 20 up for grabs today. Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) is currently second with 44 points, Tao Geoghegan Hart is third with 35 points. All Bouchard needs to do to keep that jersey is finish today’s stage within the time limit.

The breakaway’s lead over the peloton has grown out to 4min 45sec.

1:42PM

100km to go

With the stage leaders nearing the summit of this category one climb it will be interesting to see if Tao Geoghegan Hart challenges Geoffrey Bouchard for the points in the mountains classification. The Briton started the day third overall in that particular competition and one can only assume the Frenchman is in no mood to give away his polka dot jersey without a fight – Bouchard actually extended his lead earlier today having scooped up six points atop the Puerto de Navacerrada.

1:38PM

102km to go

This strong looking leading group has extended its lead on the peloton to over four minutes now, but there’s an awful lot of racing to go yet. Back in the bunch Jumbo-Visma are controlling the pace on the front while Movistar and Astana are tucked in neatly behind.

1:27PM

106km to go

The leading group has swollen to 13 riders after Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-Merida) rode out of nowhere to bridge over to what was the chasing group. As it stands the Austrian is now riding alongside Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Omar Fraile (Astana), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos), Sergio Higuita (EF Education First), Jonas Koch (CCC), Tobias Ludvigson (Groupama-FDJ), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team), Wout Poels (Ineos), Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma), Óscar Rodríguez (Euskadi-Murias) and Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) at the midway point of the category one Puerto de la Morcuera climb. These 13 riders lead the Jumbo-Visma powered peloton by 3min 22sec.

1:18PM

110km to go

The gap between the stage leaders and the peloton has increased to 1min 24sec which would suggest that the breakaway has very much settled. With two Ineos riders in the leading group it will be interesting to see how Wout Poels and Tao Geoghegan Hart play this out. As I’m sure you will know, Geoghegan Hart finished third and second on stages 15 and 16, but can the Hackney-born rider go one better today and win his first stage – and first WorldTour race – at a grand tour?

1:10PM

115km to go

Geoffrey Bouchard, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Sergio Higuita, Tobias Ludvigson (Groupama-FDJ), Louis Meintjes and Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott) have managed to catch Wout Poels while a five-man group comprising Omar Fraile, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Jonas Koch (CCC), Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma) and Óscar Rodríguez (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias) are chasing on, around 20sec down.

1:02PM

125km to go

Woet Poels is hanging on to his slim lead, but a number of riders back in the peloton which features all of the main protagonists in the race for the general classification, are putting in little digs off the front ensure the speed remains high. Meanwhile, a small group – including Ineos team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart – are within touching distance.

12:55PM

130km to go

Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) has now teamed up with Louis Meintjes in pursuit of stage leader Woet Poels whose advantage has dropped to 15sec as he heads down the other side of the tree-lined Puerto de Navacerrada. Beautifully smooth looking asphalt.

12:52PM

134km to go

Woet Poels has just added 10 points to his tally in the mountains classification after being the first to crest the category one Puerto de Navacerrada ahead of Geoffrey Bouchard, the overall leader in that particular competition. Omar Fraile, Darwin Atapuma (Cofidis) and Pierre Latour (Ag2r-La Mondiale) took the remainder of the points.

12:42PM

Ghebreigzabhier abandons 

Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Dimension Data), the Eritrean who crashed earlier in today’s stage, has been forced to abandon. This was the first grand tour the 25 year-old has started that he will not complete. Ghebreigzabhier finished in 37th spot at last year’s Vuelta a España and was 45th overall at the Giro d’Italia back in May.

12:41PM

138km to go

Wout Poels was spotted rubber necking a few minutes ago, but the Ineos rider appears in no mood to sit up and wait for any riding colleagues and has extended his lead to 34sec, while further back Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) has replaced Thomas De Gendt in the chasing group between the Dutchman and general classification riders.

12:33PM

140km to go

Thomas De Gendt has managed to catch Hermann Pernsteiner, as has Geoffrey Bouchard who is currently dressed in matching polka dot jersey and shorts as leader in the mountains classification. The trio trails Wout Poels by 25sec.

12:29PM

142km to go

Hermann Pernsteiner, who plummeted seven places on general classification on Wednesday, is off in pursuit of stage leader Wout Poels while a posse of others are not too far behind the Austrian. I think Omar Fraile (Astana) is one chasing, as is Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal). The peloton is around 20sec behind Poels who is looking fairly comfortable as he hits the steeper section of this climb.

12:22PM

Where’s Wout? There’s Wout! | 147km to go

Wout Poels (Ineos) who, let’s face it, has had a disappointing season by his high standards, has taken over on the front ahead of Hermann Pernsteiner and Geoffrey Bouchard. The early section of this 11.8km climb – it pitches up to 10 per cent in gradient – is perfect terrain for the Dutchman who excels on the steep stuff, but one can only imagin this is way, way too early for a lone solo attack, isn’t it?

12:19PM

Lively start | 150km to go

Ok folks, so the racing is well under way with the foothills of the category one Puerto de Navacerrada is sight of the race leaders. There has already been a number of attacks off the front and Luis León Sánchez (Astana) has been looking extremely lively, however as it stands Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-Merida) and Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) have edged off the front of the peloton.

11:35AM

Welcome all

Hello and welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 18 of the 74th edition of the Vuelta a España, the 177.5km run from Colmenar Viejo to Becerril de la Sierra. As you can see from the stage profile, today appears to be another tough day in the office for those with their eyes firmly focused on the general classification.

Stage 18Stage 18
Stage 18

With four categorised climbs – the Puerto de Navacerrada, two ascents of the Puerto de la Morcuera and the Puerto de Cotos – there should be plenty of opportunities for attacks, while a whole stack of riders will be thinking about the stage win. However, following yesterday’s dramatic day in the crosswinds when almost everybody had to work really hard it will be interesting to see how people recovered overnight.

One imagines the general classification battle will probably wait until the penultimate climb of the penultimate days in the mountains at this year’s Vuelta, but that is purely speculation on my part.

As you can see, below the current top three – Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – there is another trio of riders – Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) – who will all be hoping to break onto the podium before the race concludes in Madrid on Sunday and so each of these riders and there teams will be hoping to gains some valuable time today. Equally, it will be interesting to see how young Briton James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step) copes following yesterday’s stage. Can the 23 year-old hold on to his eighth spot or, even, can he catch or leapfrog Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) who sits 23sec ahead of the Cumbrian lad on general classification.

Racing id due to start at 11.40am (BST) with our live blog getting under way shortly after midday.

11:35AM

Where are we?

Here’s a reminder of the route of this year’s Vuelta a España  . . .

vuelta routevuelta route
vuelta route

      . . . and here are the details of each and every stage at this year’s race:

11:35AM

As it stands . . . 

Here’s what the standings look like in the general, points, mountains, young rider and team classifications after 17 days of racing.

11:35AM

The Cycling Podcast: re-cap of yesterday’s stage

The longest stage of the Vuelta a España produced a masterclass from Deceuninck-Quick Step in racing in crosswinds. The Belgian team attacked almost from the gun and placed all but one of their eight riders in a forty-strong front group. 

Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe discuss a thrilling stage that had serious ramifications for the general classification. The boys hear from Sepp Kuss of race leader Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team, from Tim Declercq of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Dario Cataldo of Astana and Owain Doull, the grand tour debutant from Ineos who made the front group.

And there are the latest instalments from their two diarists, Nick Schultz of Mitchelton-Scott and one of the days main beneficiaries, James Knox of Deceuninck-Quick Step.