Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) remains in third position overall at the Vuelta a España after he almost fainted in the descent of the Coll de Ordino due to the cold weather conditions but then staged a spectacular comeback on the climb of the Collado de la Gallina.
Sixth on stage 14 after losing 50 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and 48 to Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard), Valverde limited his time losses and remains in third overall at 1:42, whilst other top GC riders, such as Ireland's Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), had worse days and dropped much further behind. Valverde is also the new leader of the points competition.
The Spaniard's teammates Sylvester Szymd, Eros Capecchi and Jose Herrada guided Valverde as best they could to the foot of the Collado, the finishing ascent. Passing one dropped rider after another and clearly recovering, Valverde closed to within 15 seconds of the red jersey group before Horner and Nibali shot away.
"That was inhuman, the hardest day I've ever had on the bike," Valverde said afterwards before predicting a day of mass abandons on Sunday's stage. "Maybe we'll just end up with 50 riders in the race," he continued, regarding the expected bad weather in the remaining Pyrenean stages.
"I was feeling faint and suffering, it was really terrible today," the 2012 runner-up and 2009 Vuelta winner said. "I was trembling with the cold, I was even cold when I was climbing up the Envalira, it was that bad, just imagine how bad it was going down.
"Luis [Leon Sanchez - Belkin] ended up abandoning because he was so cold he couldn't control his bike," Valverde said. "He couldn't have stopped it."
Valverde thanked his team profusely for "saving my day" but it was the Spaniard in person who put in the hard work on the final climb trying to reel in Nibali and the rest.
"It could have been worse," he said, "I got a good rhythm on the ascent and I'm still in the fight."
However, for the first time in this race, Valverde hinted that with two such strong climbers ahead of him, it might be difficult to go one better than his second place in 2012.
"I'm third overall, winning the Vuelta now could be hard, but the podium is always good," he concluded. Tomorrow, though, at Peyragudes, Valverde was the last winner - in the 2012 Tour de France, something Nibali, for one, will remember well.
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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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