But the day belonged to Chris Horner who, at almost 42 years old, took his first Grand Tour win, and did so in the most amazing way by both defending and attacking. A worthy Champion!
Here’s how the last day unfolded;
And so we’ve reached the final day of the final Grand Tour of 2013, and just about everyone’s agreed; it’s been by far the toughest tour in a long while. The organizers laid down a course that seemed tailor-made for a lightweight Spanish climber like Valverde or Rodríguez but in the end everyone was upstaged by the man from Oregon, Chris Horner.
Among the many emotions going through the riders this morning the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. For many of these riders their season effectively comes to an end and they get some downtime with their families and a chance to relax their strict training regime – at least for a little while. Even if they’re scheduled to ride the Worlds or one of the late season classics like Lombardy they can do so in the knowledge that they don’t have to get up and race the next day, or the day after that.
Today’s stage is one of celebration as protocol dictates that the fight for the Red Jersey has now been won. The stage started with a lot of clinking from Cava glasses, photo opportunities and a whole bunch of congratulations. Traditionally, there is no real racing along the 109.6km stage until the finishing circuit in Madrid, which is 5.7km long and will be covered 8 times with an Intermediate Sprint on laps 1 and 6.
And They’re Off And Racing!
And so the peloton finally rolled out on a glorious day with temperatures of 29 degrees and for the very first day nobody attacked. The riders were taking it easy and some 30km into the stage RadioShack came to the front but more as a mark of respect rather than any serious effort. Part of the route this morning took the race through Pinto, the hometown of last year’s winner Alberto Contador who earlier today tweeted, “Today @LaVuelta goes through my hometown, Pinto. This year I’m not there but next year yes!”
We started the day with 144 riders from a full field of 197 so Valverde’s prediction came partway true, having lost 53 riders over three weeks. Some teams faired better than others with EuskaltelEuskadi, no doubt buoyed by the Alonso announcement, finishing all 9 of their riders but Vacansoleil-DCM reaching Madrid with only 3.
While we’re talking about predictions Ed had Nibali as the winner and I went for Rodríguez so while both of us were a little wide of the mark he takes the biscuit for highest placing. Chapeau Señor!
As the race came onto the circuit and went along the Gran Via for the first time a special honor was afforded to the winners of the team classification, Euskaltel-Euskadi who led out the first circuit, and in doing so took the first sprint. It’s a special day for the Basque team because although the team has been saved it may well change from the orange strip as the squad relocates to the Asturian region of Spain and gains new sponsors in the shape of Santander.
Most Attacking Rider
And the first attack gets underway…and it’s the Caja Rural rider Francisco Javier Aramendia. He’s determined to win the most Combative Rider award this year as he was denied it in the 2012 Vuelta despite winning on four separate days…and I can think of no other rider more deserving.
He was soon joined by Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) but as the pair headed up the Gran Via for the third time the Lampre-led peloton was keeping their lead pegged at between 20 and 30 seconds. This continued for the next three passes with Aramendia and Vanotti rolling through the second sprint but by now several teams were taking an interest in bringing the escapees to book in time for the final circuit.
8km to Go
With the race distance coming down Cannondale hit the front of the bunch and the gap was down to 15 seconds as everyone was getting ready for the final lap on this twisty three-sided circuit. As they hit the bell the lead pair had 7 seconds and were fighting to stay away but it was all over for them as Sky now hit the front thinking of their man Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Last Lap Lunge
Every team with a sprinter was now fighting for space at the front. GarminSharp was there for Farrar but it was Zak Dempster from NetApp-Endura who tried to jump the others by going off the front. He managed to hang out front for half a lap but couldn’t sustain it. Around the final hairpin and Argos-Shimano took control. Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) tried a lone attack but it was in vain. As the sprinters’ teams finally had the stage finish they’d waited for all race long it looked like Argos-Shimano had it only for Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Matthews to launch himself down the left side of the road and fly over the line by a clear two lengths to get his second stage win. Tyler Farrar took second having gone just that fraction too soon and Argos-Shimano got a consolation third with their man Niklas Arndt.
Oldest Grand Tour Winner
And so Chris Horner takes his first Vuelta win and passes into history as the oldest man to do so. He’ll be keen to come back next year and defend the jersey especially with Contador promising to ride. With Jens Voigt already confirmed to ride for RadioShack next year they will be the team with the oldest rider average but in seems that, certainly in this race, age trumps youth. Will Horner stay with Trek though? His Vuelta win will certainly up his asking price and the latest rumors have him heading Alonso’s way to the new look Euskaltel. One to keep an eye on!
A special word about Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) who finishes 5th and displayed just how much this rider has progressed over the last couple of years. He has a new self-belief and this, more than anything else, means that we can now expect more from the man with such a fantastic racing pedigree.
It’s certainly been a superb Vuelta a España and has lived up to everyone’s expectations as the most aggressive tour of the year. I’m already looking forward to next year’s race, which is rumored to start in Cadíz province in the south with Jeréz being the most likely contender.
We have the Worlds coming soon but keep it Pez in the meantime for all the latest news from Interbike, interviews, tech reviews, travel and more!
Stage 21 Results:
1 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 2:44:00
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Sharp
3 Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano
4 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
5 Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida
6 Grega Bole (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
7 Adrien Petit (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
8 Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Team Argos-Shimano
9 Francesco Lasca (Ita) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
10 Robert Wagner (Ger) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
Final General Classification
1 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 84:36:04
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:37
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:36
4 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:03:22
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:07:11
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:08:00
7 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:08:41
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:09:51
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:10:11
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:13:11