Kiryienka wins stage 18 of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana

American attacks again, but Nibali defends the overall lead in the first of three mountain showdowns

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Vasil Kiryienka won stage 18 of the Vuelta a España at Peña Cabarga, Spain, on Thursday. Kiryienka (Sky) attacked his way to the stage win in the Vuelta’s first of three major mountain stages in northern Spain.

Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) was second, at 28 seconds, in the 186-kilometer leg from Burgos and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) was third, at 1:18.

“I am working hard and working honestly,” said Kiryienka. “I try to be constant for my team. I was second in a stage five years ago, and I wanted to come back to win a stage at the Vuelta. I came to this Vuelta to work, and I’ve been doing what I can throughout this race, but today I had freedom to get into the breakaway. The legs were good and I thought it was best to attack from far away. I am very happy.”

Overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) lost contact with the top GC rivals late on the finish climb and narrowly held onto the red leader’s jersey. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard), second overall, drew to within three seconds of the Italian with two mountain stages to come. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is third, at 1:10, and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) is fourth, at 2:24.

The 68th Vuelta continues Friday with the 181km 19th stage, from San Vicente Barquera to the Alto Naranco above Oviedo. The Cat. 2 finish climb is the second of three consecutive summit finishes facing riders ahead of Sunday’s finale in Madrid.

Kiryienka attacked from the day’s long breakaway before the final climb and held on over the Peña Cabarga’s 20-percent ramps near the finish for the victory.

Back in the red-jersey group, Katusha attacked hard with three riders with roughly 3km to go. Horner was the first to react. Nibali and Valverde touched shoulders in a left-hand switchback and the Spaniard was soon in trouble. Daniel Moreno peeled off of the Katusha threesome and faded.

Horner pulled Nibali and Moreno onto the rear wheel of breakaway leftover Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) inside the final 2km, but the American was soon on his own, riding for the leader’s red jersey. Horner left Nibali behind and climbed past Rodríguez.

Valverde came back in the final kilometer, drawing even with Nibali and then following a surge by Rodríguez in the final 300 meters to leave the overall leader alone. Up ahead, Horner pushed to the finish, climbing out of the saddle, but ultimately came up three seconds short in his bid to pull the red jersey off Nibali’s back.

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