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Cavendish hat-trick moves him closer to the green jersey

Mark Cavendish clinched his third – and HTC-Columbia‘s fifth – stage win of this year’s Vuelta a España in Salamanca this afternoon. The victory consolidated his stranglehold on the points competition; barring a major mishap, he now looks certain to wear the green jersey when the race finishes in Madrid on Sunday.

At 149 km, today’s stage from Valladolid to Salamanca was pancake flat and also the shortest road stage of the Vuelta other than Sunday’s processional final run into Madrid, earmarking it as an obvious candidate for a bunch sprint and an opportunity for the GC contenders to enjoy a relatively easy day after the exertions of the individual time trial and the three consecutive summit finishes which preceded it.

Mark Cavendish, the only three-time stage winner so far at the Vuelta (image courtesy of TDWSport.com)

An eight-man break formed immediately, but were never allowed a lead of more than about two minutes by the peloton, led primarily by HTC-Columbia, Garmin-Transitions and the Liquigas team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali. Despite a late attack by former red jersey Philippe Gilbert, the pack was fully reintegrated in good time to set up the sprint.

Having safely negotiated several roundabouts in the final few kilometres, Quick Step drove the pace at the front deep into the final kilometre before faltering, allowing Cavendish’s own lead-out man Matt Goss to take over. Yet again, the Australian provided a brilliant lead-out into the slightly uphill finish, with Cavendish delaying his sprint until around the 175-metre mark. With Tyler Farrar out of position, Cavendish comfortably held off Saxo Bank‘s J J Haedo to win by just over a bike length and claim a hat-trick of consecutive sprint wins, his struggles in the race’s first week now long forgotten. Footon-Servetto‘s Manuel Cardoso was third, Farrar fourth.

As always, Cavendish proclaimed it a victory for the entire team rather than himself:

I say it every time but it’s me who crosses the line first but it’s a team of eight guys. 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.

Cavendish now leads Farrar by 32 in the points competition, and with only tomorrow and Sunday’s final stage offering significant opportunities for the sprinters, if he finishes ahead of Farrar tomorrow the Manx Missile should end his first Vuelta in the green jersey on Sunday.

The order at the top of the general classification remained unchanged today, and should do so again on tomorrow’ slightly lumpy stage, which is almost certain to finish in either another bunch sprint or a breakaway win. Vincenzo Nibali leads by 38 seconds.

Stage 18 result:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 3:27:11

2. Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank) same time

3. Manuel Cardoso (Footon-Servetto) s/t

4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) s/t

5. Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) s/t

General classification:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 74:47:06

2. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) +0:38

3. Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia) +1:59

4. Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) +3:43

5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +3:48

6. Xavier Tondó (Cervelo) +3:48

7. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) +3:58

8. Nicolas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale) +4:02

9. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) +4:16

10. Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) +5:42

Points classification:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 136 pts

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) 104

2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 93

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 89

5. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 75

Mountains classification:

1. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 48 pts

2. Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) 38

3. Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) 25

4. Gonzalo Rabuñal (Xacobeo Galicia) 25

5. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Eusakdi) 21

I am away on holiday for the next week, so will not be covering the final three stages.

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent steephill.tv.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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