Mark Cavendish took another step towards becoming only the second British rider to win the points competition in one of the three grand tours when he took his third stage win of the Vuelta a Espana in Salamanca.
It completed a fine day for the HTC-Columbia team, with Andre Greipel winning the stage of the Tour of Britain.
Cavendish’s third win was again set up by his team-mate Matt Goss and it looked comfortable, despite a good challenge from Saxo Bank’s Argentinian sprinter Juan Jose Haedo.
With Tyler Farrar managing only fourth place, Cavendish stretched his lead in the points competition and has just two days to worry about. Tomorrow’s stage is lumpy and could go either way - a sprint or a breakaway - so he will have to be observant. Saturday’s stage has a summit finish but Joaquin Rodriguez and Vincenzo Nibali are now too far back to pose any real danger to Cavendish in the points standings.
It was a run of the mill stage with the day’s big break being reeled in well before the finish. The bunch sped towards the finish with only an attack by Philippe Gilbert threatening to derail the sprinters.
The Belgian attacked with nine kilometres to go and it was impressive to see him hold off the bunch for four kilometres. He will surely be one of the favourites for the World Championships next month.
“I say it every time but it’s me who crosses the line first but it’s a team of eight guys,” Cavendish said. “Peter Velits, who is third on GC, put in a huge turn with a kilometre to go. Most GC guys would sit back but he put in an incredible effort for me.
“Quick Step did a great lead-out. It was slightly uphill. It was a hard finish and it was difficult to know which gear to be in. I changed gear four or five times in the last 500 metres trying to work out what gear was best to jump in.”
Baring mishaps, the green jersey is looking good for him now. Malcolm Elliott won the points competition at the Vuelta a Espana in 1989 - when the jersey was actually blue.
Overall there was no change, with Vincenzo Nibali still leading Ezequiel Mosquera by 39 seconds.
Tomorrow’s 19th stage is a 231-kilometre leg to Toledo.
Stage 18: Valladolid - Salamanca
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia in 3-27-11
2. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
3. Manuel Cardoso (Por) Footon-Servetto
4. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
5. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
6. Robert Forster (Ger) Milram
7. Enrique Mata (Spa) Footon-Servetto
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Omega Pharma
9. Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step
10. Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre all same time
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas in 74-47-06
2. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 39sec
3. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Columbia at 1-59
4. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 3-42
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 3-48
6. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo at 3-49
7. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin at 3-59
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R at 4-02
9. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 4-15
10. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 5-42
Mark Cavendish takes his third Vuelta stage win
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Related links
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index