Three years ago when the Vuelta a España first tackled the Peña Cabarga climb, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) claimed the red jersey of leader by a mere four second margin. Today, as he reached the summit of the same climb, he was left with only a three second advantage over Chris Horner (RadioShack), and looking increasingly unlikely to be enough to keep the red jersey on the Angliru.
“Horner has got an extra gear compared with the rest of his rivals,” Nibali said. “He put in a really steady pace on the climb and dropped everybody, [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar) and [Joaquim] Rodriguez (Katusha), not just me.”
“Tomorrow is a very difficult stage and then there’s the Angliru, we’ll see what happens, but he’s riding with real strength.“
Recounting how the final climb had played out and asked if he still liked it - as he told Spanish television he did yesterday - the 28-year-old Sicilian replied with a grin. “Sure I still like it, the public were amazing.”
“But Movistar were driving so hard, Rodriguez tried to get away and I let him go, I was just wanting to follow Horner as closely as possible. But he was impossible to follow.”
Was this a replay of the same situation as in 2010 when Nibali took the Vuelta lead by the bare minimum at Peña Cabarga? “Not really, because on that occasion there were still a lot of stages to go and opportunities to win. Here we’re right at the end of the race.”
Asked how he felt about Horner being able to race so well when into his fifth decade, Nibali responded with another grin, “I do know that maybe I won’t be riding at 42!
“He has shown he’s got a really strong physical condition and if he doesn't have a crisis in the last few days, he’ll be difficult to beat. He’s one of the strongest on the climbs.” So with the Naranco and Angliru still to come, then, the ball is definitely in Horner’s court.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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