America’s Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) came within just three seconds of taking the overall lead in the Vuelta a España on Thursday on stage 18's final climb to Peña Cabarga. Once again the 41-year-old has shown himself to be the strongest climber of the Vuelta, and with Nibali suffering a second straight defeat in the mountains, this time losing 25 seconds, the tables look to be on the point of being turned in favour of Horner.
“You’ve got to be pleased with any time you gain and we still have another real big mountain stage on Saturday, so it should be possible to get the jersey,” Horner told Cyclingnews.
“I knew from the second climb on of the day that my legs were extremely good, so I told the team to make the race hard and hope for the best. You never know thought, because you’re racing against the best riders in the world, so you need them to feel bad.
“You’re talking about minimal differences between us, a third or a fourth of a percent, you need someone to feel bad or not have taken on enough calories. But clearly today the legs were good.”
Even with Fabian Cancellara having pulled out, Horner’s teammates, in particular Robert Kiserlovski powered up the ascent, with Movistar also contributing before Katusha’s mass attack with Joaquim Rodriguez saw the front group shredded to a bare four or five riders. Nibali and Rodriguez stayed with Horner briefly but then the American piled on the power to go away alone.
Although he said he preferred to have the lead at this point, there are advantages in being able to stay in Nibali’s and Astana’s shadow at least as far as Naranco tomorrow.
“I would have liked to have the jersey, it’s always easier to follow a rider than it is to get away from a rider,” he told Cyclingnews “But I can’t complain, it was a lot of time to make up and now all I need is a very small window of opportunity and I can win the Vuelta.”
Horner once lived in nearby Santander, the closest big city, for six weeks, but he never went up the Peña Cabarga. Nor does he know the Alto de Naranco climb tomorrow. But so far, with each stage and Nibali looking increasingly fragile, that is not proving to be a problem at all.