Madrid, Sep 15: The misty peak of Alto de Angliru decided the destiny of this year’s Vuelta de Espana (Tour of Spain) cycle race as American Chris Horner rode to glory and almost assured he will be crowned race winner when the Vuelta finishes here.
Horner, who is barely a month short of his 42nd birthday, began the 142-km penultimate stage Saturday with a narrow three-second lead over Vicenzo Nibali and just over a minute over Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, reports Xinhua.
Saturday’s stage was not only the toughest in the race, but also the last chance the riders had to take time off each other. It ensured a dramatic day’s racing.
With such tight time differences between the first four riders, the climb of the Alto de Angliru was destined to decide the overall standings, given that Sunday’s final stage into Madrid is to end in a bunch sprint and barring disaster, the man leading at the end of Saturday’s climb is almost certain to be in front at the end of the final stage.
The Angliru takes the riders up 12 km with an average gradient of 10.2 percent, but increases to over 23 percent in some places and is suited to specialist climbers.
Perhaps for that reason the main peloton was happy to see a break ride clear and bide its time until the start of the final climb, where Dani Moreno showed the Katusha team of fourth placed Joaquin Rodriguez were not about to surrender their options without a fight.
Moreno attacked from the start and looked to split the group.
Nibali had looked a tired rider in the past few days as he surrendered the leader’s jersey, but with six kilometres remaining, the Italian made his penultimate attempt for glory, climbing out of the saddle to try and leave his rivals in his wake.
He left Valverde but Rodriguez and Horner matched him on some of the steepest slopes of the climb.
Valverde dragged himself back into contention, but just as he joined the select group Nibali attacked again and this time only Horner followed him. Not only did the American follow, but he then overtook him, riding clear to finish 27 seconds ahead of Nibali and Valverde.
Horner now has a 37 second lead over Nibali, while Valverde will take third place on the podium, 1.37 behind.
The stage itself was won by Kenny Elissonde, who had formed part of the original breakaway and was able to battle his way up the misty slopes of the Angliru, but the drama of the day and the race was being played out behind.