Avilés to Alto de l'Angliru 142.2 km
Stage Twenty, the penultimate stage of the Vuelta, was not only the final mountain stage, but also finished atop the brutally steep Alto de L'Angliru, a 12.2km road averaging a 10.2% gradient, but vaulting up to over 20% in seconds. The Angliru was the fourth, and hardest, climb of the day. The stage, and the race, was going to be decided here.
But the King of the Mountain competition was going to be decided on the mountains leading to the Angliru. Cannondale Pro Cycling's Daniele Ratto had three climbs in which to gain enough points to dislodge KoM leader Nicolas Edet of Cofidis.
Indeed, Ratto got into the first breakaway of the day. And Edet was there for company. But their group was pulled back. And another went. And was pulled back. Eventually 32 riders, a huge escape, got away, and built up almost a six-minute advantage. In there were riders from several teams, including those of second-placed Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), third-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and fourth-placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), as well as Cannondale's Maciej Paterski, and yesterday's winner Vasili Kiryienka.
The break tackled the first two climbs together. On the third, with the gap to the peloton still at almost six minutes, Nibali's teammate Paolo Tiralongo attacked and brought out FdJ's Kenny Elissonde. The two raced over the summit of the Alto de Cordal, and to the base of the Angliru together.
On the Angliru, Elissonde and Tiralongo worked well together, as the gap slowly came down. Back in the peloton, race leader Chris Horner was isolated when his RadioShack teammates were too tired to stay by his side.
With seven kilometers remaining, Nibali attacked Horner and got a gap. Simultaneously, Tiralongo sat up from the breakaway as did their Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang, who was between Tiralongo and Nibali. If Nibali could catch them, they could pace him up the climb and further distance their leader from Horner.
Nibali raced to a ten second gap as Horner got no help from Rodriguez and Valverde, who were hoping to capitalize on the American's need to chase. But Horner kept riding steadily and slowly brought Nibali back. After Nibali was brought to heel, Horner tried a dig. But was countered by Nibali. Horner appeared to be struggling, but came back with five kilometers remaining, just as Nibali's teammates were caught.
Astana set the pace. Nibali attacked again with four clicks left. The move dropped his 'mates. But Horner fought to get back on. With two kilometers remaining, Horner took the lead. Coming out of a steep hairpin bend, Horner applied just a little more pressure. Nibali started to struggle. Horner dug harder. Nibali was suddenly a few seconds adrift.
And then the race leader gave everything he had left. The gap grew, Horner started putting in serious time to Elissonde's lead. Into the final kilometer, the stage win was assured, but Horner had no illusions he could rest. He blitzed the final meters to finish second on the day, 26 seconds behind Elissonde. Valverde finished third another 28 seconds down, with Nibali on his wheel. Paterski was the top Cannondale finisher in 38th place. Horner's second place on the stage also took him to second place in the KoM competition, pushing Ratto down to third.
Horner's lead, thanks to the gap and the resulting time bonus for finishing second, is now 37 seconds. It looks like this Vuelta is his. Valverde's fourth place grew his gap over fourth-placed Rodriguez to 1:46. The podium appears to be a lock as well.
Tomorrow's race, Stage Twenty-One, 109.6km from Leganés to Madrid concludes this year's Vuelta a España. The fist 65km travels from the first city to the second. The remainder of the race is comprised of nine 5.7km circuits inside the city. With the time gaps between the top riders as they are, don't expect any shake up in the general classification. The ride to Madrid will probably be a parade, while the race will quickly go ballistic in Madrid and a giant field sprint will almost certainly finish the race. Cannondale Pro Cycling, without a top field sprinter, will do what it can to make a breakaway happen.
Vuelta a España 2013
Stage 20: Avilés to Alto de l'Angliru
1. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ 3:55:36
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:26
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:54
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team same time
5. Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
38. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 0:09:35
59. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:14:54
67. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:15:52
90. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 0:23:09
130. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 0:25:33
133. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg)
134. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita)
1. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 81:52:01
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:37
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:38
4. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:03:22
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:07:11
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
54. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 2:02:49
57. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 2:07:58
86. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 3:00:43
95. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 3:11:53
99. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 3:22:56
111. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 3:45:44
139. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 4:28:24
1. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 46 pts
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 32
3. Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 30
4. Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 26
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 23