Up until three kilometres to go of the final Pyrenean stage, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) looked all but invulnerable in the 2013 Vuelta a España. But a blizzard of attacks by his rivals left the Italian first isolated and then on the back foot as first Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), then Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and finally Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) left the 2013 Giro d'Italia winner up against the ropes.
With so little time left to go, the damage each inflicted was measured in seconds, not minutes. But if Rodriguez gained the biggest time gap, it was Horner, closest on time overall, who now looks the most threatening for Nibali.
On what was theoretically the easiest of the three Pyrenean stages, Horner gained 22 seconds on the Italian and is now just 28 seconds back. With three summit finishes still to come of increasing difficulty, the Vuelta is far from over.
"I've taken 22 seconds and the jersey [lead] is getting closer," Horner, already twice the leader and twice a stage winner, told reporters afterwards. "I really don't know what is going to happen in the next few days."
"It's Nibali who has the key to the race. If he weakens just a little, then everything is possible. And we've seen today, too, that it isn't just me, but also Purito who can be a match for Nibali."
Horner said on his rest day he would do little more than "eat, sleep, eat, sleep and go on the home trainer for 45 minutes and imagine what's to come. It's incredible - in four days' time [six - Ed.] we'll be in Madrid."
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