Horner sheds Nibali in decisive Vuelta stage
APALTO DE L'ANGLIRU, Spain -- American veteran Christopher Horner increased his overall lead in the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, despite repeated attacks by Vincenzo Nibali in a decisive penultimate stage won by Kenny Elissonde.
September 16, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
Horner entered the 20th stage three seconds ahead of Nibali going into the grueling mountainous ride with a summit finish. The 41-year-old RadioShack-Leopard rider unleashed a devastating uphill climb to shake off the Giro d'Italia winner on the final surge up the fogged-in peak.
Horner increased his lead over Nibali to 37 seconds and will hold the leader's red jersey for Sunday's traditional arrival in Madrid.
“I don't need any time for it to sink in. I know what I've done,” said Horner, who will turn 42 next month. “I think everybody at home that was on the couch got to watch a legendary moment that maybe they'll never see again in their entire career. Maybe never again in sports, maybe never again in cycling will you see someone of my age win a grand tour.”
Elissonde of France's Francaise des Jeux won a stage that started in Aviles and covered three major summits before ending with a special-category climb to the Alto de L'Angliru peak in 3 hours, 55 minutes, 36 seconds.
“It's L'Angliru, it's mythical. This morning if you'd have told me this I wouldn't believe it,” Elissonde said.
Horner collapsed to the ground after pedaling across to the finish line second, 26 seconds after Elissonde. After soaking up being close to the biggest win of his long career, he was helped to his feet by race officials.
Joaquim Rodriguez's Katusha team set a brutal pace on the last two peaks, whittling down the group of favorites to 11 riders with seven kilometers to go.
The L'Angliru summit was teeming with fans, many of who had camped out overnight to be there the next day to encourage the tired cyclists on their way up.
Horner withstood Nibali's series of challenges on the ascent reaching 23 degrees of incline, with the narrow mountain road crowded on both sides by raucous supporters and with thick fog limiting visibility to a few meters (yards).
And when the Astana rider had apparently spent all his energy, Horner pulled away using his high-riding stance.
Horner praised Nibali and Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Rodriguez.
“To have those guys around me for this victory is unbelievable,” said Horner. “That Nibali would put such an attack at the finish like that and make it so epic and unbelievable for the fans, to see him attack 10-15 times — whatever it was — I'm sure the fans must have been on the edge of their seats every moment of it, of every pedal stroke that I did on the final climb.”
Former winner Valverde will complete the podium. The Movistar rider is 1:36 behind Horner, with Rodriguez a distant fourth at 3:22 back.
“Horner was the strongest and we have to congratulate him for the victory,” Valverde said. “His performances surprised us at the beginning, but not now.”