The Sicilian has let plenty of guys go up the road these last few days because he knows that they won’t be there come the Angliru and Stage 20. But Horner’s not one of those guys . . .
Let’s start with Stage Eight, though – and one I did get right. The Czech Republic’s Leo Konig did what I tipped him to do back in my first Vuelta analysis and grabbed a stage win for his Pro Continental NetApp-Endura team – more than one Pro Tour team DS will have brought the German team’s status to the attention of his much higher paid employees.
There’s little doubt that Konig will move up the divisions for next season – he’ll have been in the talent spotters’ notebooks since he won the queen stage in California but this piece of work will have added another zero to his earnings potential.
And it was another good day for Saxo Tinkoff with Nico Roche seizing the moment, not thinking about the next stage, let alone next week and flying off in pursuit off Konig to take the red jersey of race leadership and send Irish eyes a smiling.
One man definitely thinking about the stages to come is the man Roche took the jersey from – Vincenzo Nibali. The Giro winner let the rest fight for the win and bonuses and rode in at his own pace to slide to fourth on GC – like me he probably thinks that Moreno (Katusha & Spain) and Valverde (Movistar & Spain) haven’t really looked at the race handbook for that gruesome last week.
Whilst it was a great day for Roche, it wasn’t so hot for his team mate Kreuziger with the Czech rider tumbling down the standings. It was always on the cards; it’s just not feasible to ride a hard Tour de France – as Kreuziger did in support of Contador in July – and think of GC success in the Vuelta a Espana.
Bauke Mollema is looking tired after a tough Tour de France and is now well off the pace in the GC battle.
A similar fate befell the Belkin duo of Ten Dam and Mollema – they were wasted in the last week of the le Tour so to see them good here would have been little short of miraculous. Continuing to prove so far that it’s not ‘one season too many’ is Ivan Basso (Cannondale & Italy) riding very strongly, again. It’s unlikely he’ll have a bad day and could well be pushing for a podium in the last week.
Stage Nine and Dani Moreno has obviously not heard of the old French adage about the block of energy that’s inside every rider – each time you make an effort (both necessary and unnecessary) you chip away the block; and at the end it’s the rider who has the most energy block left who wins. Nibali has heard it, that’s obvious.
Moreno racing towards stage victory and the GC lead on Stage 9.
But perhaps Moreno knows that it’s better to enjoy his days in the sun while he can; that there’s little difference between 11th and 111th when you’re outside the top ten of a Grand Tour. His attack was beautifully timed and as well as giving him his second stage win, it saw him slide the jersey off Nico Roche’s back by a single tick of the second hand.
But the Irishman’s gutsy display here in Spain will have won him plenty of admirers and whilst a final podium is unlikely he’s done enough in this Vuelta that if he went home tomorrow then it’s still been a great success. The same can’t be said for his team mate Kreuziger, another 17 minutes was added to his account on this stage.
Saxo’s third GC hope, the Pole Ralf Majka gave away 58 seconds on the cruel Jaen finishing ramp and slid out of the top ten as a consequence. And whilst Sky’s nominated team leader, Sergio Henao seems to be starting to find his legs again after a ropey first week, my podium tip, his teammate and fellow Columbian, Rigoberto Uran was showing signs of strain today.
On the principle that nothing happens in professional cycling without a reason, perhaps that’s why we’re seeing Sky riders in the breaks – the two Columbian Capos know they can’t deliver a podium and one of the richest teams in the world won’t want to go home from a Grand Tour empty handed.
And so to Stage 10 and Horner’s remarkable second stage win which put him back in red. A master at bringing himself to form on little racing but plenty of the right training – as he proved in Utah – and a also at reading a race. He rightly gambled that the others would look at each other and play their; ‘it’s not up to me to chase’ cards – and then it would be too late. And so it proved.
With this the first mega mountain stage of the race the expected big shake up took place. Horner’s ride was a surprise but Nibali remains second and with a time trial to come on Wednesday should be back in red by the end of the day. But he’ll think twice before allowing Horner much slack in the second half of this race.
Roche continues to show real grinta and sits third – I’ll be surprised but delighted if he makes the podium in Madrid, though. Valverde continues to fight hard at every finish line – I can’t help but feel that has to catch up with him at some stage, even though he’s currently fourth and I still believe he can make the podium.
Rodriguez is in fifth spot, he’s been ‘there’ on every stage but I feel that it’ll be very difficult for him to make the podium with le Tour in his legs – but he proved me wrong in that race with his podium finish and excellent last week. The first of Moreno’s over draft payments became due today and he dropped 2:22 to slide from race leader to sixth – and he’ll lose more before the race is over.
In lucky seventh is the man who is really impressing me in this race, Ivan Basso has a 2:20 deficit on Horner but dropped 1:26 of that in the TTT. He’s unlikely to crack and will keep churning through the climbs day after day – he looks well worth a podium to me.
And nice to see F des J’s dashing French hope Thibaud Pinot get back on track; sixth on the stage and now eighth on GC. The Tour de France was a disaster for the tall, tanned and handsome 23 year-old from Melisey – having to quit with illness and after embarrassing revelations about ‘losing his nerve’ on descents. Especially after 2012 when he took a stage win and finished in the top 10 on GC – with his morale back a stage win is possible.
Majka could be one to watch in the coming stages.
Majka crept back into ninth to give Saxo two cards to play in the top 10 and AG2R’s quiet Italian Domenico Pozzovivo anchors the last placing which is worth talking about.It’s unsurprising to see Uran tumble to 15th @ five minutes but disappointing to see stage winner Leo Konig (NetApp & Czech Republic) exit the top ten – but he may be back, Uran won’t.
With the race half way through the revelation has been Konig; the Lazarus ‘risen again’ award is shared between Basso, Roche and Horner and whilst Moreno, Rodriguez and Valverde fight like hyenas tearing at a carcass, Vincenzo Nibali just quietly takes care of business. Will he give us a show on the Angliru like he did in the snow on the Tre Cime di Laverado? Let’s hope so.
And despite the profusion of hills, passes, ramps and mountains it’s still a tight race and has been highly entertaining – here’s to the next 11 stages.
General Classification After Stage 10:
1 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 40:29:14
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:43
3 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:53
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:02
5 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:01:40
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:02:04
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:02:20
8 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ 0:03:11
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:16
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:28
11 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:03:58
12 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Movistar Team 0:04:09
13 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:04:35
14 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:04:42
15 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:05:12
16 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:06:05
17 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:06:33
18 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caja Rural
19 Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team 0:06:36
20 Mikel Nieve Iturralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:06:39