It’s a good job Vincenzo Nibali has tooth skin

Because that’s the amount by which he’s retained the lead in this year’s Vuelta.

It’s not looking good for Vince Nibbles. He tried to follow Chris Horner on stage 18’s final climb, the Pena Cabarga, but couldn’t. Nor could any of the other main contenders and the middle-aged American now hovers just three seconds away from Nibali’s red jersey.

Even largish gaps won’t be insurmountable until after the Angliru on Saturday. If the Pena Cabarga was bad enough, the Angliru is a similar sort of thing, but twice as long. It’s more challenging than trying to do Rubik’s Clock while under heavy gunfire and while that will encourage Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde (the gradient, not the analogy), on recent evidence Chris Horner is the least concerned by ludicrous inclines.

Stage winner

Horner didn’t win the stage, however. The peloton reached the final climb minutes after a fragmented breakaway. Team Sky’s Belarusian hard man, Vasil Kiryienka was first over the line, having ridden the final 40-odd kilometres on his own. And he is a hard man. Look at his frighteningly earnest face.

Eastern Bloc riders arrived in cycling not so many years ago and the sport still hasn’t got over the shock. Suddenly there were all these unsmiling, unspeaking men doling out punishment and wearing huge gold chains and red sharkskin shoes when they were off the bike. I don’t know about Kiryienka’s dress sense, but he seems to pretty much meet the stereotype.

Stage 19

It’s not just about the Angliru on Saturday. The Vuelta being the Vuelta, there’s a summit finish as the filling in a summit finish sandwich. That’s not really a sandwich. But it is a summit finish. Here’s the profile.