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Nibali and Rodriguez profit as Antón abandons after heavy crash

When the organisers of the Vuelta a España planned a route featuring beyond-category summit finishes on three consecutive days, they presumably envisaged the tension and stakes ratcheting up with each successive stage before reaching a crescendo on Monday’s stage 16. But Fate is an impatient mistress, and she chose to deal her biggest blow first this afternoon as race leader Igor Antón crashed out on a long, straight, wide section of road as the peloton approached the concluding climb of the Peña Cabarga. As the race continued without the red jersey, Joaquim Rodriguez timed his attack to perfection to claim victory, while Vincenzo Nibali did just enough to succeed Antón as the new overall leader.

The calm before the storm as the peloton descends the Portillo de Lunada on stage 14 (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The day had started predictably enough, with a wary peloton choosing not to waste its energy reserves early by chasing down what began as a solo escape by Milram‘s Niki Terpstra and subsequently swelled to a three-man group as Garmin-TransitionsDavid Millar and Dave Zabriskie jumped across the gap. The trio built up an advantage as large as 13 minutes at one point before the pack, led initially by a series of attacks by Caisse d’Epargne and then with Rodriguez’s Katusha team to the fore, arose from their slumber to close the gap.

Nonetheless, despite losing Zabriskie, Terpstra and Millar still held an advantage of two minutes over a strung-out, flat-out peloton as they approached the six kilometre ascent of Peña Cabarga, a vicious climb averaging 9% in gradient and including ramps of up to 19%. It was here, at speeds touching 70 kph, that Antón suddenly flew spectacularly off his bike, bringing down Euskaltel-Euskadi teammate Egoi Martinez and a host of other riders. With his red jersey shredded and bleeding heavily from a gash on his elbow, he was soon back on his feet but it quickly became apparent he could not continue and climbed into one of the team cars, where with a wry smile and a wave he accepted that his race was suddenly, unexpectedly over.

At first it appeared Antón and Martinez had touched wheels in a moment of lapsed concentration, but the rider later confirmed he had been most likely been unseated by a pothole:

I crashed alone. I think I hit a hole or an obstacle. I stood up and saw blood all over the place and I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. Instinctively I tried to get back on my bike and I realised my right arm couldn’t bend. Our team doctor came straight away. He touched my arm and said, “Forget about it, it’s broken.”

The peloton continued its pursuit of the two leaders, swallowing both up well before the final kilometre. Xacobeo Galicia‘s David García was the first to attack, while Nibali’s Liquigas teammate Roman Kreuziger headed the response from the remaining group of about ten contenders. As Kreuziger blew up Nibali launched his own attack, overhauling García and quickly pulling out what appeared to be a stage-winning advantage. But Rodriguez timed and paced his response perfectly, accelerating clear of the lead group, overhauling the Italian with around 800 metres to go and showing him a clean pair of heels. As the Spaniard crossed the line, completely spent, to claim the stage victory, Nibali ploughed grimly on, just managing to hold off Ezequiel Mosquera and limiting his losses. After taking time bonuses into account, the Liquigas man had claimed the red jersey with a meagre four-second advantage over Rodriguez.

King of the Mountains leader David Moncoutié finished fourth, extending his lead in the climbers’ competition by a further four points.

However, the exciting duel between Rodriguez and Nibali was overshadowed by Antón’s unfortunate withdrawal. Rodriguez expressed sympathy for his countryman:

It’s a pity that his Vuelta is ending like this. I didn’t see the crash, I just heard the noise. Everyone wanted to get a good position before the climb. It was very fast, I didn’t know the leader was down.

And Nibali added:

I only heard about it when I was on the podium. I stayed concentrated and didn’t realise that I was the leader. I’m deeply sorry for Igor. I would have preferred to have taken the jersey in a different way.

Rodriguez acknowledged that, although Nibali had been unable to deal with his final attack, that the short, sharp nature of the Peña Cabarga – similar to the climb to Mende which saw him claim a Tour de France stage win in July – played more to his strengths. Tomorrow’s longer final climb of the Lagos de Covadonga may suit the Italian better. He was certainly not taking anything for granted:

Tomorrow I’ll have to be careful. I’ll watch Nibali, but not just him. Several riders can still win the Vuelta.

Nibali remained guardedly optimistic about his own prospects:

Win the race overall? It is difficult. I will have to manage myself over tomorrow’s stage, but in my favour is [Wednesday’s 46-kilometre] time trial.

The effects of the crash and the punishing climb shook up the top of the order considerably, with Mosquera, Nicolas Roche and Fränk Schleck being the main beneficiaries behind the leading two. With two tough days in the mountains to come, followed by the individual time trial – which Nibali will probably be looking forward to the most – anyone down to Peter Velits in seventh can claim to have a legitimate opportunity to win in Madrid. Sadly, Igor Antón can no longer count himself among that select band.

Stage 14 result:

1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 4:26:43

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) +0:20

3. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) +0:22

4. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) +0:33

5. Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) +0:34

General classification:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 60:55:39

2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:04

3. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) +0:50

4. Xavier Tondó (Cervelo) +0:50

5. Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) +2:11

6. Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) +2:12

7. Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia) +2:29

8. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) +3:29

9. Rubén Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) +3:41

10. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) +3:52

Points classification:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 111 pts

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) 90

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 74

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 73

5. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 67

Mountains classification:

1. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 45 pts

2. Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) 36

3. Gonzalo Rabuñal (Xacobeo Galicia) 25

4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) 16

5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 15

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent steephill.tv.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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