Ratto Climbs to Victory in Stage 15 of Vuelta; Nibali Keeps Red Jersey
Cold and rain greeted the racers. In the opening km, a 12-man break formed that included world road race champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Steve Chainel (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Ratto, and Luis Leon Sanchez and Graeme Brown (both from Belkin). Astana did not chase, and the escapees’ lead was 8:18 at the base of the special category Port de Envalira, which took the Vuelta out of Spain and into Andorra. On the ascent, Chainel and Brown were dropped, and the break’s advantage grew to more than 11 minutes.
Behind, Katusha led the peloton. The Russian team’s pacemaking reduced the peloton to 40 riders. On the descent, the cold (5 degrees Centigrade) and rain caused havoc, with riders crashing and being dropped because of hypothermia. Sanchez crashed and abandoned, and Ratto jumped ahead of Gilbert. Basso, who began the day in seventh place overall, became the first big name to be dropped.
On the Category 2 Coll de Ordino, Ratto still led Gilbert. The peloton split into multiple groups. At the summit of the following climb, the second category Coll de Ordino, Ratto led the red jersey group by 8:17. Jose Herrada (Movistar); David Arroyo and Amets Txurruka (both from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA); Igor Anton, Egoi Martinez, and Pablo Urtasun (all from Euskaltel-Euskadi); Thibaut Pinot (Francaise des Jeux); Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp); and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked out of the group, but they were reeled in quickly.
With 20 km left, Ratto led Gilbert by 2:00, the chase group by 8:05, and the red jersey group by 8:40. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was dropped on the descent of the Ordino.
On the descent of the second category Alto de la Comella, the wet road nearly caused Ratto to slide off of the course. Behind, Basso abandoned, and Valverde continued to struggle. At the base of the Category 1 ascent to the finish, the Movistar man was 0:40 behind the red jersey group.
The cold, the rain, and the pace demolished the red jersey group. Nicolas Roche (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) was dropped and would finish 20th at 7:22, plummeting from third to sixth overall. With four km left, only Nibali, Horner, and Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack-Leopard) remained.
Nibali and Horner jumped clear of the Croatian. Horner did most of the pacemaking, and the pair overtook Gilbert. Ahead, Ratto was exhausted, but the Cannondale rider persevered and stayed clear, pumping his fists as he crossed the finish line. Nibali outsprinted Horner to the finish to take a two-second bonus, while the American grabbed four seconds for third.
Aside from Gatto, Valverde probably had the most epic ride on an epic stage. He was dropped on the descent of the Ordino because of the cold, but the Spaniard battled back on the day’s final climb to finish sixth, only 0:50 behind Nibali. The Movistar man said, “It was a really hard day for me, horrible, cruel; for me, it was the hardest day ever on a bike. Not only due to the hard parcours, but also because of the conditions, which made things much, much harder. I was feeling so cold into the descents, trembling, unable to pedal, I almost crashed. People were overtaking me all the time...I was feeling cold even when climbing - when that happens, everything becomes so difficult.
"I have to thank my team, because they gave everything for me and their work was phenomenal. Thanks to them, I could get over the day--due to them and the fans, who deserve the best, I could get over it. At the last climb, I recovered well, warmed up, got on a nice pace, and started overtaking riders. That's why I'm happy with the result.
"It was a hellish day for everything. Seeing how many riders withdrew, and thinking about tomorrow's stage, with 250 km including the neutral zone--should the weather develop like today, I don't really know what will happen. Surrendering? I never surrender. We're still in third place. Winning the Vuelta will be difficult, but getting a podium finish is always beautiful."
Ratto entered the break to assist Basso when the race caught up to the escapees, but the team captain’s misfortune became his opportunity to shine. “Usually my chance to win a race comes from a bunch sprint, not in a mountain stage,” the Cannondale man said. “I was in the breakaway to take advantage on the peloton and be able to help Ivan after the descents. Then the weather changed the development of the stage...I felt good and I tried. I rode on my own too early but I was confident to maintain the gap thanks to the descents. Sometimes I risked but I had to. The hardest moment was just before the final climb. I was tired and I also had cramps. Thanks also to my DS [Dario] Mariuzzo from the team car I was able to manage the last energies and to take this solo win. I’m really happy, but on the other hand, it’s just a cold comfort after Ivan’s withdrawal. I did not know that he had quit until after the finish. I haven’t seen him race so strongly in a long time.”
In the overall, Nibali leads Horner by 0:50 and Valverde at 1:42. Stage 15 will do more sorting out of the general classification. The 2013 Vuelta’s longest stage at 224.9 km, the ride from Andorra to Peyragudes, France will feature four Category 1 climbs, including the ascent to the finish. Expect another long breakaway. Who it stay away? Win Nibali further tighten his grip on the race? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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