Nicolas Roche claims glorious stage victory of Vuelta a Espana
Nicolas Roche claimed victory on the 18th stage of the Vuelta a Espana yesterday as Tom Dumoulin kept hold of the leader's red jersey for Team Giant-Alpecin.
The 31-year-old Irishman, who last won a Grant Tour stage win during the 2013 race in Spain, won the 204-kilometre route from Roa to Riaza in a sprint finish to hand Team Sky their first victory of the Tour.
Team Sky's Roche, who now lies 26th in the overall standings, and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) broke away from the leading group with the former just edging out the Basque in a time of five hours, three minutes and 59 seconds as Portugal's Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) crossed the line 18 seconds further back in third.
There was no change at the top of the general classification as Holland's Dumoulin - Wednesday's winner - maintained his hold at the summit after coming home 15th in Riaza. He has a three-seconds lead over Astana's Fabio Aru.
With no summit finishes remaining until Sunday's concluding stage to Madrid, it remains to be seen if Aru of Italy can wrestle the red jersey from Dumoulin.
A fascinating conclusion to the race is in prospect as Dumoulin seeks a momentous moment for Dutch cycling.
It is 35 years since a Dutchman won a Grand Tour, when Joop Zoetemelk won the 1980 Tour de France. He also won the 1979 Vuelta.
Roche was delighted hopes of a stage victory "finally worked out" as he sealed the triumph in Riaza.
"There was a rider 20 seconds behind and when we saw that I just said 'let's just ride to the finish and we'll do a mano-a-mano sprint'.
"It was actually really good and we co-operated well since the 15km to go sign. I think that was our only chance.
"Coming into the sprint I wanted to lead it out. Haimar is someone who has got a lot of experience and I've lost a few sprints against him in the past, in (Clasica) San Sebastian for example.
"I didn't want to have a slow-start sprint, I wanted to have a really high speed one.
"I thought I'd try and manage my own pace. I smiled because I was happy that it worked. I thought 'yes, for once I didn't mess up'.
"I've had a few second and third places and I've always lacked that little small bit at the finish.
"Today it finally worked out," he concluded.