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CSC's Nicki Sorensen emerged from his usual support role on the Danish team to take the biggest win of his career, outsprinting Comunitat Valenciana's Javier Pascual Rodriguez at the end of a mountainous stage through the Sierra de Gredo that started and finished in the stunning walled city of Avila. This pair came in 22 seconds ahead of Illes Balears' Chente Garcia Acosta, who was dropped in the closing kilometre after his attempt to get clear had been foiled.
There was no notable change in the overall standings, although Paco Mancebo did give his home crowd something to shout about when he attacked on the cobbled hill climbing into Avila, but he only gained three seconds on the other overall contenders at the line.
Garcia Acosta was one of the first riders to respond to an attack by Gilberto Simoni right under the start banner. Within a few kilometres Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez were also part of a 16-strong group. Descending from the third of four categorised climbs, the second-cat Seranillos, Garcia Acosta jumped clear of what was left of this leading group, but was caught and passed by Pascual Rodriguez on the second-cat Navalmoral climb 25km further up the road.
Sorensen got across to the lone leader on the descent from this climb, and this pair were caught by Garcia Acosta on the edge of Avila. The Illes Balears rider made his final dig with a couple of kilometres left, but could not respond again when caught by his two rivals, who went on to dispute the victory.
With the overall contenders neutralising each other again, the main news of the day was the withdrawal from the race of Santos Gonzalez, following the results of a medical test undertaken by his Phonak team. According to Phonak, Gonzalez, who had been lying eighth overall, was withdrawn by them from the race "because in a control undertaken by the team he went over the permitted parameters set by the group". The team did not say what these parameters were.
"This was a control carried out by the team and has nothing to do with the UCI," team manager John Lelangue told Reuters. "The values that we set are much lower than those allowed in the UCI's medical controls. Santos has not been suspended, he simply has to stop racing for now."
Stage 18, Avila-Avila
1 Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team CSC 197.5km in 5.05.34
2 Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana
3 Jos Vicente Garcia Acosta (Spa) Illes Balears 0.22
4 Daniele Nardello (Ita) T-Mobile 1.06
5 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak
6 Mario Aerts (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 1.10
7 Pablo Lastras (Spa) Illes Balears
8 Gorka Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel 1.25
9 Moises Due¤as (Spa) Relax 2.32
10 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 3.55
11 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana 3.58
12 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros
13 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC
14 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
15 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel
16 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile
17 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana
18 Mauricio Ardila (Col) Davitamon-Lotto
21 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 4.09
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 74.30.48
2 Menchov 4.30
3 Sastre 4.50
4 Mancebo 5.48
5 Garcia Quesada 6.22
6 Sevilla 11.13
7 Plaza 11.36
8 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Quick Step 15.28
9 Danielson 15.50
10 Ardila 15.53
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