Irishman Philip Deignan (Cervélo TestTeam) moved up to ninth place overall after beating Czech Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) at the end of the 187km stage 18 of the 2009 Vuelta a España Thursday. Home favourite Alejandro Valverde held onto the overall lead with three days to go until the end of the race.
Deignan covered the hilly 165-kilometre ride from Talavera de la Reina to Avila in 4 hours, 19 minutes, 14 seconds amid persistent rain and unusually chilly weather for this time of the year.
"I am really happy. It is the first time that an Irishman wins a stage at a major tour since Stephen Roche in 1992," he told reporters after the stage. Roche won the 16th stage of the Tour de France that year.
Kreuziger finished three seconds behind Deignan, and Denmark's Jacob Fuglsang was third, 16 seconds from the leader.
Deignan and Kreuziger moved out of an early 16-man escape group on the descent of the stage's final climb and the Irishman managed to outsprint the Czech rider in a final push to the finish line.
Valverde, riding for Caisse D'Epargne, said he was more confident of winning his first major Tour after managing to hold on to the leader's yellow jersey.
"I think that by managing to save my lead today I have taken another important step towards victory and what is certain is that today the possibilities of arriving in Madrid wearing yellow have increased above the 70 percent that I spoke of the other day," he said.
The Tour resumes Friday with a 179.8-kilometre ride between Avila and Navacerrada that includes three major climbs en route that provide ample opportunities to break up the bunch.
"Tomorrow's stage is very complicated, my rivals will try to move up the rankings. It will be a day to feel supported by the team," said Valverde.
The three-week race, the third major Tour of the year after the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, wraps up in Madrid on Sunday.
Valverde, 29, is looking to win his first major tour after twice finishing on the podium in the Tour of Spain. He is still serving a two-year ban for doping in Italy which prevented him from taking part in the Tour de France this year as it briefly passed through the country. Valverde has denied any wrongdoing.
© 2009 AFP
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