Elissonde Wins Stage 20 of Vuelta; Horner Pads Overall Lead
After a number of abortive sallies, Benat Intxausti (Movistar) and Dario Cataldo (Sky) got clear at about 20 km and 30 other riders joined them. They were Jose Joao Mendes and Jan Barta (both from NetApp-Endura); Andriy Grivko, Paolo Tiralongo, and Jacob Fuglsang (all three from Astana); Vasily Kiryienka (Sky); Rinaldo Nocentini and Carlos Betancur (both from Ag2r-La Mondiale); Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-QuickStep); Bauke Mollema and Juan Manuel Garate (both from Belkin); Juan Antonio Flecha and Rafael Valls (both from Vacansoleil-DCM); Nicolas Edet and Jerome Coppel (both from Cofidis); David Arroyo, Antonio Piedra, and Andre Cardoso (both from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA); Maciej Paterski (Cannondale); Dominik Nerz and Ivan Santamorita (both from Team BMC Racing); Francis De Greef (Lotto-Belisol); Elissonde; Johannes Frohlinger (Argos-Shimano); Dmitry Kozontchuk and Angel Vicioso (both from Katusha); Imanol Erviti (Movistar); Dario Cataldo (Sky); and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida). At the base of the Category 3 Alto de la Cabrunana (40 km), the gaggle led the field by 4:24, and at the base of the descent, the break led the bunch by more than five minutes.
Grivko, Arroyo, and Piedra dropped the others, and Edet (Cofidis) and Kiryienka (Sky) joined the trio. At the base of the Category 2 Alto de Tenebredo (about 75 km), the escapees led the rest of the break by 1:15 and the bunch by 7:02. On the lower slopes of the climb, Piedra was dropped, although he eventually rejoined the leaders.
Most of the chasing break members rejoined the leaders at 94 km. Behind, Euskaltel-Euskadi led the peloton, which was 5:56 in arrears. With 37.6 km remaining, the bunch trailed the break by 5:39.
At the base of the Category 1 Alto del Cordal, with 26.6 km left, Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) attacked his break companions. Behind, Katusha joined Euskaltel-Euskadi at the front. At this point, the bunch was 5:38 behind the break. Three km later, Elissonde joined Tiralongo at the front. At the summit, the pair led a chase group composed of members of the original break by 0:34. The peloton was five minutes behind them.
Movistar led the red jersey group onto the Angliru. Ahead, Elissonde and Tiralongo led the heads of state by about four and a half minutes.
Katusha took over at the front. The Russian squad’s pacemaking reduced the red jersey group to fewer than 20 riders with 10 km remaining. The group trailed the two leaders by 3:38.
Three km later, with the red jersey group 2:32 behind Elissonde and Tiralongo, Nibali attacked. Nicolas Roche (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) was dropped. Horner chased, and Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) took his wheel. The red jersey group reeled in the Italian. Horner countered, but Nibali caught him. Tiralongo sat up to assist Nibali. Nibali attacked again and dropped Valverde.
Horner, Rodriguez, and Nibali caught Tiralongo with five km left. Ahead, Fuglsang (Astana), a member of the original break, sat up and waited for his team captain. Rodriguez accelerated and led the red jersey group to Fuglsang. Valverde got back on.
With the red jersey group two minutes behind Elissonde, Tiralongo did the pacemaking. Nibali put in another attack, but Horner, Valverde, and Rodriguez stayed with him. Nibali tried again, and Valverde and Rodriguez fell off of the pace. Another surge of Nibali forced the American to claw his way back to the Italian’s wheel.
With one km left, Elissonde led Nibali and Horner by one minute. He hung on for the biggest win of his career, throwing his arms aloft as he reached the finish line.
Horner attacked, and Nibali fell back. The RadioShack-Leopard man powered away from the Astana rider. Valverde caught Nibali and outsprinted him for third. After crossing the finish line, Horner laid on the tarmac for a time and was then escorted to a tent near the podium.
Horner exulted over his pending victory, which will make him the oldest rider to win a Grand Tour and the first American to win the Vuelta a Espana. “At my age I do not need to wait until tomorrow to let this sink in. I understand how beautiful it is. I love how big a fight Nibali brought to this and how hard and to such a dark place I had to dig to win this race. I had to go back to what works best for me. It took me a moment to realize as he kept attacking me that I needed to stick with what worked for me at the beginning and remind myself it would work for me again at the end. Finally, I had to bring the power up as high as possible all the way to the end so he wouldn’t have one moment to recover. Any time he could recover even just a little bit, he had time to accelerate. I made that mistake the first few times before I went to the front and set my own tempo.
“I knew how hard today would be and how much suffering I was in for. Nibali was amazing. To win here among such great champions such as Nibali and Valverde and Rodriguez means so much to me. To have those guys around me in this victory is incredible. To see Nibali attack so many times had to be so exciting for the fans of cycling. They must have been on the edge of their seats! It was a legendary moment, I think, to see someone of my age win a Grand Tour. I hope all of you enjoyed every pedal stroke and enjoyed my suffering and love it the same way I did. For every moment I suffered, I hope the fans truly enjoyed it.”
In the overall, Horner leads Nibali by 0:37 and Valverde by 1:36. Stage 20 will be a largely ceremonial procession for Horner, but victory in the flat, 109.6-km run from Leganes to Madrid will still have to be fought for. A sprinter will take the stage. Who will it be? Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp)? Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)? Michael Matthews (GreenEdge)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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