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Valverde extends lead as Vuelta nears end

  • Story Highlights
  • Spain's Alejandro Valverde edges closer to victory at cycling's Vuelta Espana
  • Valverde extends lead to 32 seconds after finishing just ahead of main pack
  • He finished stage 18 in 20th, almost 10 minutes behind winner Philip Deignan
  • Deignan became first Irishman since 1992 to win stage in one of three major races
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(CNN) -- Alejandro Valverde edged closer to victory at cycling's Vuelta Espana after extending his lead by a second on Thursday's 18th stage from Talavera de la Reina to Avila.

Alejandro Valverde is seeking to clinch his first victory in one of cycling's top-three races.

Alejandro Valverde is seeking to clinch his first victory in one of cycling's top-three races.

The Spaniard goes into the final three stages of the three-week race 32 seconds ahead of Dutchman Robert Gesink, who was cleared to continue riding after crashing on Wednesday.

Valverde was nine minutes and 40 seconds adrift of stage winner Philip Deignan as he -- along with Cadel Evans, David Garcia and Samuel Sanchez, who is third overall -- finished a second ahead of the 26-strong main pack, which included Gesink.

Valverde, seeking his first major victory, was 20th behind Sanchez, while Gesink was 26th.

He said he trusted his Caisse d'Epargne teammates to help improve his position in Friday's 180km journey from Avila to La Granja ahead of the time trial in Toledo on Saturday.

"This is a fantastic team and I have complete confidence in them," Valverde told the official Vuelta Web site.

Irishman Deignan, of the Cervelo Test Team, finished Thursday's 165-kilometer leg in four hours, 19 minutes and 14 seconds, with Liquigas rider Roman Kreuziger three seconds back after they broke away late.

Denmark's Jacob Fugslang was 16 seconds off the leader's pace in third, with Spanish rider Manuel Vazquez fourth..

The 25-year-old Deignan, who has been suffering from health problems in recent months, became the first Irishman to win a stage on one of cycling's three major races since 1992.

He made his move on the downslope from Boqueron that Deignan, breaking away from the peloton with Kreuziger.

The Czech led going into the final straight, but Deignan pulled out off his back wheel and surged clear to the line.

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