I know I keep saying it, but today was yet another day of excitement. When the race hit the summit finish of l’Angliru the gauntlet was thrown down by Vincenzo Nibali, not once but many times. It rattled Chris Horner, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and the other GC hopefuls, but the Italian tried too hard, too early and in the end Horner was the man to put his name on the Red jersey for the finish in Madrid tomorrow. The day must go to a young Frenchman who rode away from the break to finish solo and very happy. Kenny Elissode is nearly 20 years younger than Horner, but again the new guard showed that cycling has been reborn.
Here it is, the big one; the Alto de l’Angliru. The last important stage in this year’s Vuelta a España, with only 3 seconds separating Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and not to mention Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) biting at their ankles. As a soccer commentator might say “it’s all to play for!”
The tough 142.2 kilometre day starts in Avilés and climbs two uncategorised climbs before starting the 3rd Cat Alto de la Cabruñana (375 meters) after 40 kilometres. Next is the 2nd Cat Alto de Tenebredo (510 metres) after 75 kilometres, from there the road drags up the base of the 1st Cat Alto del Cordal (780 meters), which summits 9 kilometres before the sting in the tail which is the fearful Special Cat Alto de l’Angliru (1,557 metres) with its steepest sections of 23.5% gradient.
Vuelta A España 2013 Stage 20 Preview with Google Earth Fly Through by Global Cycling Network:
How it All Unfolded
The stage showed it was going to be hard and fast as the first attack came in the second kilometre, it didn’t last long, but the scene had been set for yet another wild and crazy day at la Vuelta.
Astana had control of the peloton from the start until a dangerous group of 23 riders formed and RadioShack Leopard took to the front to bring it back. Different combinations of riders forced breaks that all failed until Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) and Dario Cataldo (Sky) managed to get a leadoff 30 seconds after 20 kilometres. They were joined by a big group of 30, which pushed on to a 1:35 advantage by 30 kilometres and 4:24 by the 40 kilometre mark.
The leaders were: Jan Barta & Jose Joao Mendes (NetApp-Endura), Andre Cardoso, Antonio Piedra & David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Paolo Tiralongo, Jacob Fuglsang & Andriy Grivko (Astana), Dario Cataldo & Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Carlos Alberto Betancur & Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), Juan Manuel Garate & Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Rafael Valls Ferri & Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoliel-DCM), Jerome Coppel & Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Maciej Paterski (Cannondale), Ivan Santaromita & Dominik Nerz (BMC), Francis De Greef (Lotto Belisol), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Johannes Frohlinger (Argos-Shimano), Angel Vicioso & Dmitry Kozontchuk (Katusha), Imanol Erviti & Benat Intxausti (Movistar) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida).
Astana put their men on the front and the lead stabilised at four and a half minutes as the race started the fist climb of the day, the Alto de la Cabruñana.
Alto de la Cabruñana
As expected Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) took the KOM points from Andre Cardoso and Antonio Piedra, both Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, the average speed had been over 40 kph with 45 kilometres covered. At the end of the descent the lead had grown to 5:04 and Grivo, Arroyo and Piedra had a slight lead, they were joined by KOM leader Edet and stage 18 winner Vasil Kiryienka. There were 25 undulating kilometres until the start of the 2nd Cat Alto de Tenebredo with the intermediate sprint after 66 kilometres in Trubia.
At the sprint; the five out front had 18 seconds on their ex-companions and 5:38 on the main bunch and Edet was first ahead of Kiryienka and Piedra.
Alto de Tenebredo
By the start of the climb after 75.7 kilometres the five leaders were only four as Piedra had been dropped, the four had a lead of 1:15 on the others in the break, while Piedra was 19 seconds on the climb hoping to get back with them on the descent, the peloton was at 6:40. The Tenebredo may only be 3.4 kilometres long, but it has 10.4 % gradient. At the KOM line; again it was Edet first with Kiryienka next and Arroyo third.
Movistar had men at the head of the main bunch coming into the last 60 kilometres, but they needed to make up more than 7 minutes. Then Euskaltel-Euskadi started rideing hard and the lead dropped to 5:37 with 45 kilometres to go.
Up front Nocentini, Patersi, Coppel and Valls got across to the leaders, but this was all pointless as the remainder of the chasers caught the front group to make 26 riders five and a half minutes ahead of the Orange led bunch.
Through the second intermediate sprint in Mieres at 104.6 kilometres the recovered Antonio Piedra crossed the line first with Ulissi and Erviti behind him.
Alto del Cordal
The Cordal is 6 kilometres long with an average gradient of 8.1% and ramps of 12%. The pace was high in the escape, but Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) went off on his own with 25 kilometres to go to the finish. Katusha had replaced Eusaltel-Euskadi making the pace in the peloton and Horner could be seen moving near to the front not to miss any moves. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) pulled Horner off the front, but as soon as the Basque saw who was with him he sat up.
Tiralongo was joined by Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and they were still holding the Red jersey group, which was down to about 40 riders, at 5:26 on the climb as the intermediate group had split to pieces.
At the top of the Cordal; Tiralongo led Elissonde over the line, the bunch came to the top at 5:02 down.
On the technical descent Elissonde had to use all his nerve to hold the wheel of Tiralongo who plummeting like a stone towards the valley of the Vega de Riosa and the start of the final horrendous 12.8 kilometres to the summit.
Alto de l’Angliru
Spanish TV had listed the gearing the GC men are using today on the l’Angliru: Chris Horner 34×32, Vincenco Nibali 34×29, Alejandro Valverde 36×29, Joaquim Rodriguez 36×28 and Nico Roche 36×32.
Tiralongo and Elissonde had 5 minutes at the base of l’Angliru with the remainder of the break still between.
The GC group had split on the descent, but it got back together as Movistar had two riders leading and keeping the speed high on the start of the climb. Rodriguez put his Katusha men to work which blew Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) out the back. Rodriguez had Dani Moreno in front of him and Chris Horner on his wheel with Nibali on his and Valverde next in line and Roche close by.
The GC group was down to 11 riders as they came under the 8 to go banner at 3:06 and it was still Moreno giving out the pain.
Nibali attacked at 7 kilometres, no one could go with him and he started to catch some of the remainder of the break. Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) pulled the GC group.
Nibali pushed through the stragglers as Tiralongo eased up to wait for team leader Nibali and Elissonde was on his own at the front.
Horner had to chase and he only had Valverde and Rodriguez for company, Rodriguez look at easy on the steep ramps, but Valverde cracked and could not hold the American and the Catalan.
Chris Horner dug deep and pulled back Nibali with 5 kilometres to go and Valverde was not to be seen. Tiralongo was caught by Horner, Nibali and Rodriguez and also Fuglsang joined them. Rodriguez was the man with the most to gain as he could move onto the podium above Valverde.
Valverde got through his bad patch and struggled back to the others, Tiralongo and Fuglsang rode tempo for Nibali as they hit the 21% section and rode into the mountain mist.
Nibali dug deep again and lost his two team mates and put Rodriguez and Valverde into trouble, but Horner held him. Again Nibali attacked, this time Horner was the only one to hold the Italians wheel. The fog thickened and Nibali jumped again and Horner looked in trouble, but would not be beaten and clawed himself back into contention again.
Through the fog and fans; Horner had Nibali on the ropes on the steepest section as motorbikes and cars stalled on the hardest bit of road. Valverde dropped Rodriguez and was trying to get back to Horner and Nibali.
Elissonde was still out ahead with 1 kilometre to go and a lead of over 1 minute.
Horner pressed hard on the pedals as they caught what was left of the escape, Nibali couldn’t follow and Horner soon had a gap. Just a couple of lengths at first and then the gap was too much for the Italian to close. With 1 kilometre to go Horner looked back and couldn’t see anyone behind him and allowed himself a smile.
Kenny Elissonde knew he had the win, but couldn’t see the finish through the clouds; eventually he crosses the line with arms held wide for a great stage victory. Chris Horner was next, he collapsed into a heap over the line surrounded by team helpers and photographers, once he regained his composure, Horner was practically carried the podium tent.
Alejandro Valverde towed Nibali to the line 28 seconds down on Horner, Joaquim Rodriguez had lost the wheel of Valverde and lost nearly a minute on the Movistar man and any hope of 3rd overall.
So, Chris Horner at nearly 42 years of age has won the 2013 Vuelta a España by 37 seconds and won it with an exciting, aggressive style. A Vuelta to remember.
Stage winner Kenny Elissonde (FDJ): “I had bad legs; well not good anyway, it was very difficult, the l’Angliru is mythical. It’s the happiest day of my life.”
It was kisses all round from Chris Horner on the podium, not just for the girls, but for everyone: “I don’t need any time for this to sink in and I know how hard it was today and it will last a life time. I’m so happy to win up against these great champions here, Nibali and Valverde; I have watched his career and I was in the same team as Rodriguez and I’ve seen him improve every year. To see Nibali attack 10 or 15 times like he did must have had the fans on the edge of their seats. I hope all of you enjoyed every pedal stroke I made.” He finished in Spanish with: “Thank you Spain and all the Spanish people, I thank everyone.”
Madrid tomorrow, so stay with PEZ for the big finalé.
Vuelta a España Stage 20 Result:
1. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ in 3:55:36
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard Trek at 0:26
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 0:54
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana
5. Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
6. Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC at 1:15
7. José Joao Pimenta Costa Mendes (Por) Team NetApp-Endura at 1:45
8. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha at 1:52
9. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step at 1:59
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.
Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 20:
1. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard Trek in 81:52:01
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 0:37
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 1:38
4. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha at 3:22
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 7:11
6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 8:00
7. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 8:41
8. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 9:51
9. Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura at 10:11
10. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha at 13:11.