After yesterday’s brutal day in the Pyrenees the surviving riders faced another long and arduous day, tackling four 1st Category mountains on the route from Andorra and out across the border into France to finish at the summit in Peyragudes.
In this fast and furious Vuelta we’ve moved from pleasant weather in Galicia and Castilla León to ever-increasing temperatures as the race moved south into Extremadura and Andalucía and then back to manageable conditions through Aragón and Cataluña. But nobody was expecting such brutal conditions as the race jumped into the Pyrenees and a lot of teams would have been caught out by not having a great range of cold weather gear for their riders. Frantic calls would have been going out to Service Courses all over Europe last night to try and get that kit for today as more rain was expected…and therefore more retirements.
All told 14 riders were reported as having to abandon during Saturday’s stage, many reported as suffering from the onset of hypothermia, while other big names ended by losing time due to the adverse weather conditions. Perhaps the biggest casualty was Ivan Basso (Cannondale) who was forced to climb off his bike on the descent of the Envalira and the race officials recognized Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Belkin) as suffering from the beginnings of hypothermia.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) described seeing Sanchez having to abandon because he was so cold that he couldn’t control his bike and Spain’s Juan Manuel Garate (Belkin) told Spanish TV, “I saw Luis Leon go away in an ambulance, completely frozen…up to today it’s been very hot, suddenly it’s dropped by 30 degrees. It’s okay when it’s cold but you need time to adapt.” Valverde described how he almost fainted from cold on the descent of the Coll de Ordino but guided by teammates he staged an excellent recovery to climb back to within 15 seconds of the Nibali (Astana)/ Horner (RadioShack) group before those two riders took flight. Overall he lost 50 seconds but remains in third place in the GC but other riders such as Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) dropped much further behind. Valverde predicted, “Maybe we’ll just end up with 50 riders in the race.” He seems to have accepted that with two experienced climbers ahead of him now it’s going to be difficult to get onto a higher step on the podium. That said, the last time the race went it Peyragudes it was Valverde who was the winner.
And as today’s stage started the forecast was for more rain and 15 degree temperatures in the valleys but this would be much colder on the top of the cols and, combined with wet conditions, could well see Valverde’s prediction come true.
Here’s the Global Cycling Network Vuelta2013 Stage 15 Flythrough
This is the longest stage of the race at 230km and finishes in France in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Le Tour and it could be that we’ve reached the psychological point in the race where riders will, in their own minds, be settling for the positions they now hold and thinking only of finishing in Madrid…but they have to get through today and another final day of Pyrenean climbs before the rest day on Tuesday.
Caja Rural has been one of the most attacking teams in this year’s race and it was Amets Txurrka who was first to make a move on the lower slopes of the Cantó climb. He was quickly joined by Javier Moreno (Movistar) and Dario Cataldo (Sky) but as more riders like Henao (Sky) and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel Euskadi) came across, the Vacansoleil team decided to put in a bit of work to bring it back and they were soon caught. Txurruka attacked again, dragged more riders away but again they were brought back.
Some 5km later Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) jumped away and was eventually joined by a large group of riders to make up a mini-peloton of 28. With every team apart from Garmin-Sharp and Astana represented in the group they were allowed to push on for the time being. As they came over the first mountaintop the summit was taken by Nicolas Edet (Cofodis) from Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and they had 2:04 on the main peloton. The highest placed rider in the group was David Arroyo (Caja Rural) who sits more than 11 minutes behind Nibali in the overall.
Just before Kilometer 50 we had our first abandonment of the day…but not the last as it turned out that riders would be dropping off at regular intervals, including some high profile names. The first to go was Luke Rowe (Sky) who had been riding his first Grand Tour but will be happy to get a break now. Four minutes later it was the turn of the much more experienced Baden Cooke (Orica-GreenEdge) to climb off.
The rain was on now, temperatures were dropping and next to go was the World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC). He will be very happy with his win in Tarragona and will now be preparing for the opportunity to defend his jersey and despite abandoning here it’s been a good couple of days for BMC with Cadel Evans claiming the Black Diamond stage in the Tour of Alberta.
With the bad weather ahead Astana was taking no chances and upped the pace behind more in an attempt to keep the break in check and the gap dropped to the two-minute mark. 30 Minutes had gone by since the World Champion climbed off and now it was the turn of Graeme Brown to withdraw from the race leaving (Belkin) with only four riders remaining.
As the riders started the second big climb of the day the Puerto de la Bonaigua three riders clipped off the front of the group. Friday’s stage victor, Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano), Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Francis De Greef (Lotto-Belisol) attacked the group. They were quickly joined by Mikael Cherel (AG2R-La Mondiale) and the quartet opened a gap of 35 seconds over the rest of the break with the peloton at 4:02, Astana’s chase having relaxed a little. Two riders also attacked the group and set off in pursuit of the leaders, Andre Cardoso (Caja Rural) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and eventually made contact with the four riders up front who now had a lead of 1:42 over the trailing group with the peloton at 4:31.
Next rider to climb off was the Austrian Daniel Schorn (NetApp-Endura) as the conditions of yesterday and today continued to take their toll. As the leaders came over the summit of the climb they had 2:40 over the chasers and 7:18 back to the Red Jersey group of Nibali. Edet took the summit from Cardoso to add to his tally of climbers’ points. They set off on the descent, initially through fog and with temperatures down to 8 degrees. The group behind was beginning to shed riders and they were eventually picked up by the peloton as the race made its way down the mountain.
With half the race distance now completed things began to settle down as the riders made the long haul down the valley and across the border into France and towards the foot of the third climb of the day the Col du Port Balés made famous by the ‘chaingate’ incident between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador in the 2010 Tour de France. This is a 19km climb with an average gradient of 6.2% with the upper slopes being the steepest but at least the rain had now stopped and the temperature was sitting at 13 degrees. Through the Intermediate Sprint at Bossost and the points went to De Greef, Cardoso and Cherel in that order with the leaders sitting at 2:55 to the chasers and 5:30 to the peloton, Astana again having kicked up the pace. Sadly, three more riders withdrew from the race with Simone Stortoni (Lampre-Merida) and the Omega Pharma-Quick Step pairing of Zdenek Stybar and Kristof Vandewalle choosing to abandon. If it keeps on at this rate Valverde’s prediction may well come true.
With four of the six leaders being French they were keen to put on a good show as the race headed back into their homeland, especially as the weather was improving significantly. The sun was now out and the temperature was back up to 17 degrees. They had a lead of 2:50 over the chasers and 5:30 over the peloton, Astana again deciding just to keep the gap to a manageable amount. There were still two 1st Category climbs to go but the descent from the Port Balés and onto the Peyragudes would be quick. The final climb is a 16.7km rise with an average gradient of 4.7% but reaching slopes of 13.3%. There’s a sharp descent at the 11km point before the road rises again towards the summit where the riders will then hit a false flat for the last 2km.
The gap between the groups began to fall dramatically but only because the peloton was now closing in on the chasers. Up ahead, the leaders continued to work well but it would be difficult to stay away if the GC contenders decided to attack Nibali.
50KM To Go
With the race now hitting the slopes of the Port de Balés the chase group was losing riders with Yannick Eijssen (BMC), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and the Euskaltel Euskadi pairing of Mikel Landa and Gorka Verdugo all losing touch and falling back towards the peloton. Race leader Nibali was well protected with teammates Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), and Janez Brajkovic (Astana) ready to cover any possible attacks from the three ‘most-likely’ candidates: Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde and Chris Horner (RadioShack).
Halfway up the climb and Omega Pharma-Quick Step lost their third rider of the day as the World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin decided to call a halt and climb off. Up front and it’s all change as Geniez and Andre Cardoso were now away on their own being chased by Cherel. Barquil was now back with the chasers who were being led by former Giro winner Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida). They now had a lead of 2:20 over the intermediate group with the peloton holding station at 5:35 although Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) was in a small group that attempted to go clear of the bunch but was brought back by the ever vigilant Movistar team.
With Chris Anker Sorenson (Saxo-Tinkoff) controlling the front of the bunch, Nico Roche went again and quickly joined his teammate Oliver Zaugg who had dropped back from the chase group in what looked to have been a pre-arranged move. At the same time Geniez attacked his Portugués companion and set out to ride to the finish on his own. Roche will be ruing the bad day he had yesterday in what is without doubt his best ever race and if he can move back into the top three overall if he gains more than a minute on Nibali and his group. He’s developed into a different kind of rider with a new self-belief and this race will already have seen his stock value rise considerably. With his team leader Contador being linked, however tenuously, to the new team of Fernando Alonso, Roche will have pushed his name to the fore and will have stepped up a couple of divisions in the professional ranks. He’ll be keen to get back the time he lost yesterday.
FDJ were chasing hard in an attempt to pull Roche and Zaugg back as their man Geniez was going all out for the win. The Saxo pair however was picking off riders one by one as they attempted to catch the leader. They had a minute over the peloton but still had about four minutes to find if they were to overcome Geniez. FDJ were in a bit of a quandary as they were now chasing both in an attempt to catch Roche and protect Geniez but should the leader be caught then they could still set things up for Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) who is showing that his problems of July appear to be behind him.
And now the main contenders began to stretch their legs. First Dani Moreno (Katusha) made a move but was soon brought back. The increase in speed saw a suffering Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) struggle to stay in contention. Next Valverde tried his hand only to see a counter attack by Nibali himself and the only rider that could live with his surge was Horner. Nibali eased off and Pinot tried. All together again and Rodríguez took a chance but Nibali responded. All of this meant that Roche’s lead had been trimmed to 30 seconds but up ahead Geniez was pushing for the win on home soil.
Geniez had reached the foot of the sharp descent and was now onto the final 5km up the Peyragudes with the Red Jersey group now down to Valverde, Rodríguez, Horner, Nibali, Pinot Uran (Sky) Kiserlovski (RadioShack) and Pozzovivo (AG2R). Samuel Sanchez looked to be slipping out the back with Konig (NetApp-Endura) only to see him attack the group. This was countered by a change in pace by Horner. His sustained increase in effort meant that the lead group was reduced to the overall favorites: Nibali, Rodríguez, Valverde Horner and Pozzovivo.
Geniez was now into the final kilometer and surged along the false flat to take the biggest win of his career to date. Second place eventually went to Michele Scarponi who had survived from the original chase group but he came in some 3:02 behind the day’s winner.
Roche managed to remain clear of the fast finishing Nibali group to take third spot with Nibali himself leading home his own group. It was a brave try from the young Irishman but ultimately he only really claimed back the bonus seconds for coming in third.
But the day belongs to Alexandre Geniez who as a Frenchman could not have been more proud to have finished in top spot on his native soil. Tomorrow sees another day in the Pyrenees with a 3rd Category climb followed by a 2nd Category climb and a 1st Category uphill finish at Sallent de Gállego.
Keep it Pez for all the action.
Vuelta 13 Stage 15 Results
1 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ.fr 6:20:12
2 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:03:03
3 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:07
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:03:20
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard
7 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha
8 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
9 José Herrada Lopez (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:23
10 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
Vuelta 2013 Overall Standings After Stage 15
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 60:20:21
2 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:50
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:42
4 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:57
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:43
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:49
7 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:04:59
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:06:18
9 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:07:46
10 David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:11:17