The battle for the Vuelta a España’s red jersey ultimately came down to a head-to-head battle between two men on the final climb of the race, as Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) sealed victory over Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) with a gritty and intelligent display atop Bola del Mundo on Saturday. But while those last three steep kilometres provided the race’s dramatic denouement, the full story of the Italian’s final 41-second lead was three weeks long and involved a wider supporting cast.
Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) were worthy wearers of the red jersey, while Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia), Nicolas Roche (AG2R) and Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) battled hard to stay with the very best climbers. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) also captured a third consecutive mountains title with an intelligent ride.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) found his sprinting legs a week into the race and took home his first points jersey after some fierce battles with fellow stage winners Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini). Meanwhile, Saxo Bank duo Andy Schleck and Stuart O’Grady ensured that even the rest day provided emotion at this dramatic Vuelta.
The race began with a spectacular nocturnal team time trial in Seville and the opening days of the race were marked by soaring temperatures in Andalucia. It was a man from northern climes, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), who coped best with the conditions early on, and he raced into the overall lead with a spectacular stage-winning effort in Malaga. The Belgian would proceed to offer periodic demonstrations of his wonderful form as he fine-tuned his world championships preparation, and he book-ended his Vuelta with another fine win in Toledo.
Igor Anton was the next man to give notice of his form, as he bounded clear at Valdepeñas de Jaén on stage 4, before moving into the red jersey thanks to his efforts behind David Moncoutié on stage 8 to Xorret del Cati. Over the following days, he became locked in an exciting battle for bonus seconds with Joaquin Rodriguez and the Spanish duo each had two separate spells in the overall lead. Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nibali was biding his time but riding with great consistency.
On the penultimate weekend, however, the race’s script was to take a dramatic twist. Fresh from re-taking the overall lead with a dominant stage win at Andorra, Anton crashed on the high-speed run-in to the final climb of Peña Cabarga on stage 14. If ever a moment showed the double-edged nature of sport, it was this. As the stricken Anton lay on the roadside with his red jersey in shreds, the battle for overall victory continued without him. At the precise moment that he was gingerly climbing into his team car nursing a broken elbow, Rodriguez and Nibali were fighting it out on the final climb to the line. Rodriguez danced clear to take the win, while Nibali moved into red.
The following day at the Lagos de Covandonga, the Italian held his nerve to defend his lead while Ezequiel Mosquera moved decisively into the overall picture with a fine display behind stage winner Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) as the race exploded once again on the final climb. Momentum swung temporarily back into Rodriguez’s favour when he dislodged Nibali on the third consecutive summit finish to Alto de Cotobello but the Catalan’s joy was to be short-lived. Two days later, he lost all hope of overall victory with a disastrous time trial at Peñafiel, where Peter Velits consolidated his 3rd place on the podium.
Nibali retook the red jersey in that time trial, while Mosquera's solid ride ensured that the race would be decided by that thrilling duel atop the Bola del Mundo.
Relive the highs and the lows of the 2010 Vuelta a España with our exclusive picture gallery.