Andorra to Peyragudes (France) 224.9km


When the day dawned before the start of La Vuelta's Stage Fifteen, the riders saw exactly what they lived the day before, dark skies and rain. It was warmer, but they had to steel themselves for the possibility that the 224.9km ride from Andorra to Peyragudes in France, the queen stage of the race, would be contested completely in rain.

This time, the riders dressed better. More jackets, gloves, and arm warmers were seen on the riders. But just because they bundled up didn't mean they weren't ready to go hard. On the contrary, the bad weather was motivation to some—thinking they could use it to their advantage.

Cannondale Pro Cycling's Daniele Ratto, by virtue of his great ride yesterday, began the stage in the King of the Mountains jersey, as his effort netted him all the points he needed for a sizeable lead in that competition. Despite tired legs, he and the team would do what they could to keep the jersey on his shoulders.

Attacks started as soon as the flag was dropped. Big groups formed, but their ranks included riders in the top twenty on general classification, and those in the top ten could not abide by that. Several groups went, were chased down, and then the game began anew.

After 25km, the field got tired of chasing, and the day's break was established. It included three riders in the top 20, as well as Cannondale's Maciej Paterski, 82nd overall. Ratto, tired from his efforts of the day before couldn't make it, and was going to be shut out of points: Paterski would have to snag what he could to defend Ratto's lead.

But the field wouldn't relent. For well over an hour, the field held the break to a two-minute lead. But the first-category Puerto de la Bonaigua was next up on the menu, and a dish that many couldn't digest. The big break splintered on the climb, with Paterski and most of the others fading off the pace as a group of five—Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, Andre Cardoso of Caja Rural, Mikael Cherel of AG2R, Warren Barguil of Argos-Shimano and Alexandre Geniez of FdJ rode clear. As Cardoso, as the best-placed, was seventeen minutes down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, the field decided they could afford to let the break off the leash.

Over the next climb, the Col du Port de Bales, the five were reduced to two by pressure from Genez and Cardoso. Down the Bales, Geniez started ripping through the turns, and dropped Cardoso.

Starting the climb of the Peyresourde, with the sun coming out and the roads drying, the two-summit final climb of 17km, Geniez had five minutes on Nibali's group. Pulling off a solo victory started looking very good.

Behind him, the main contenders of the Vuelta started attacking each other, probing for weaknesses, trying to steal time from each other and gain on Nibali. FdJ's Thibaut Pinot took a turn, and then Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, then Katusha employed the one-two punch of Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez. RadioShack's Chris Horner parried the moves, and sent his teammate Kiserlovski to the front to do some tenderizing. Nibali took a turn at putting screws to the others.

They were getting tired, dropping the weak, and slowly eating into Geniez's lead. Nicolas Roche of Saxo-Tinkoff Bank, who had struck out earlier in a daring move to recoup time, was seeing his lead on the top riders chipped away.

At the finish Geniez took a great solo victory, three minutes ahead of Lampre's Michele Scarponi, who had been riding alone and unseen much of the day. Third was Roche, at 3:07, who, despite his best effort, finished a mere thirteen seconds ahead of Nibali. Paterski hung on as best he could, but was unable to match the pace of the lead group and finished 37th on the day.

Ratto finished well behind the leaders, and ceded the blue polka dots to Edet of Cofidis. But as Daniele has 30 points to Nicholas' 33, tomorrow presents an opportunity for the jersey to change hands again.

The Vuelta organizers this year seem to favor the idea of three-day weekends. After two hard days in the mountains, the survivors of this Vuelta are rewarded with a third mountain stage for the sixteenth of the race. This ride starts in Graus and traverses 146.8km to Formigal atop a category one climb, the third categorized climb of the stage. The climb proper is only 16km long, but the road actually goes uphill all the way from the second intermediate sprint at 32km to go. Another opportunity for Cannondale Pro Cycling to go for both mountain points and the stage, and there's another opportunity for the general classification riders to shake up the race.

Vuelta a España 2013
Stage 15 Andorra to Peyragudes (France)

Stage Results
1. Alexandre Geniez (Fra)     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  same time  

Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
37. Maciej Paterski (Pol)       0:14:18 
46. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col)   0:15:16
110. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita)      0:35:39
128. Daniele Ratto (Ita)      same time
131. Cameron Wurf (Aus)      same time
141. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita)     same time
143. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg)     same time

General Classification
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 

General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
45. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col)   1:12:39 
64. Maciej Paterski (Pol)       1:43:06 
79. Daniele Ratto (Ita)       1:57:40 
86. Cameron Wurf (Aus)       1:59:38 
95. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita)      2:12:05 
119. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita)      2:43:45 
144. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg)      3:03:37 

Mountains Competition
1. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits   33  pts
2. Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling   30  
3. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard   22  
4. Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 20  
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff    19