Deignan claims historic stage win in Spain

 

Cycling:Ireland's Philip Deignan out-sprinted Czech Roman Kreuziger to win Stage 18 of the Tour of Spain to become the first Irish rider to win a stage on a major tour since Stephen Roche at the 1992 Tour de France.

The two riders fought for the day's victory after taking off from a break of 16 late on the hilly 165 kilometre stage from Talavera de la Reina to Avila.

Alejandro Valverde of Spain maintained his overall lead, while Deignan’s win moved him up to ninth in the overall standings.

"I was really nervous, I really didn't think I could win it [the 18th stage]," Deignan told reporters. "I've only been in that situation a couple of times in my career.

"I thought Kreuziger would attack on a cobbled section just coming into the town, or sprint past me at the end, but he can't have had the legs," he said.

After several seasons in which Deignan has been troubled by knee injuries and glandular fever, the 26-year-old said taking this victory confirmed his career was back on track.

"I wasn't sure if it was possible for me to do so well, but this win is very important for my self-confidence." The rider said it was a "big day for Irish cycling and I feel proud," adding: "We're having a great year and a win like this just caps it all off."

The Letterkenny man, who rides for Cervelo, crossed the line in a time of 4:19.14, three seconds clear of Kreuziger. Denmark's Jacob Fugslang was third, 16 seconds behind Deignan, while the main group were a further 10 minutes adrift of the winner.

Deignan (25) formed part of a nine-man group that escaped the peloton at around 40km before the groups increased to 16 by the 55km mark after several more breakaways joined.

The advantage held over the main group was over five minutes at one stage, and although the Caisse d'Epargne and Euskaltel-Euskadi teams spearheaded the chase there appeared little genuine desire to reel in the leaders, ensuring one of the breakaway group would take the stage.

Valverde, Cadel Evans, David Garcia and Samuel Sanchez eventually broke from the chasing pack to ensure Valverde stays in possession of the gold jersey, some 32 seconds ahead of Robert Gesink in second heading into the three days of racing.

Gesink's chances of winning were reduced when he was taken to hospital last night for tests after suffering a spill on yesterday's stage.

Sanchez remains in third spot overall, one minute and 10 seconds behind his fellow Spaniard Valverde.

Tomorrow's 180km stage moves from Avila to La Granja with the Tour due to finish in Madrid on Sunday.

Additional reporting Reuters