Ratto wins rainy 14th Vuelta stage, Nibali maintains lead
APCOLLADA DE LA GALLINA, Spain -- Daniele Ratto of Italy fought off cold temperatures and rain in the mountains to win a grueling 14th stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, while Vincenzo Nibali withstood his rivals' attacks to protect his overall lead.
September 9, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
Ratto, a Cannondale rider, broke away from the group and had time to savor his hard-earned victory as he made his final push to the summit finish of the 156-kilometer (97-mile) route starting in Baga and finishing in the principality of Andorra.
“It's strange me being a sprinter winning a stage in the high mountains,” said Ratto, who added he was accustomed to the bad weather because he lives in the mountains.
“The downhill stretch with rain helped me. I went for it and it worked out well,” he said.
Behind Ratto, Nibali stayed pegged to the wheel of Christopher Horner on the last category-one climb and increased his lead over rivals Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Cold temperatures made worse by the rain in the Pyrenees forced veteran Ivan Basso and Spaniard Luis Leon to abandon the race with signs of hypothermia.
“This is a big step forward,” Nibali said. “It was been a very tough day. The temperature dropped a lot, above all it was very cold going down from the Envalira summit. I have to thank my entire (Astana) team because each rider from the first to the last helped me.”
Ratto finished the stage which featured a special-category climb to the Envalira peak midway through in almost 4 1/2 hours.
Nibali crossed second 3 minutes, 53 seconds later with Horner two seconds behind.
Nibali is aiming to win the Vuelta for a second time. The Italian has a 50-second lead over Horner, who moved up into second place.
Valverde is in third place at 1:42 back, with Rodriguez 2:57 off Nibali's pace in fourth.
“It was a really hard day for me, horrible, cruel for me, it was the hardest day ever on a bike,” said Valverde. “I was feeling so cold into the descents, trembling, unable to pedal. I almost crashed. At the last climb I recovered well, warmed up, got on a nice pace and started overtaking riders. That's why I'm happy with the result.”
The grand tour stays in the mountains for the next two days, including a 225-kilometer (140-mile) route from Andorra to Peyragudes in France on Sunday.
The race ends in Madrid on Sept. 15.