Vuelta stage 3: Horner enjoys his senior moment

Stage 3: Vigo to Mirador de Lobeira/Vilagarcia de Arousa, 172.5km

The first few stages of a grand tour are supposed to ease the riders into the race, with fireworks provided by the sprinters. It is not supposed to have a peloton freak-out that results in the sprinters being dropped and the oldest rider in the peloton taking the stage win. But that’s what happened today.

Vuelta 2013 Stage 3 profile

A five-man break went out almost immediately but they were only ever allowed a handful of minutes. The coastal winds got the peloton particularly antsy and they began to ride in earnest pace with 46km to go, spelling doom for the breakers. In the scramble to get their key men up front before they hit the coastline, there was some overcooking of a 90-degree left turn, which saw half the field held up behind bikes and wheels and bodies. Catching the break at 37km to go, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) led the peloton across a narrow bridge – narrow because half of it was blocked off by barricades that made a Caja Rural rider take a tumble. This got everyone even antsier and emotion was running high as the peloton started to freak out as they were sliced and diced all the way to the finish.

Once over the first bridge crossing, Astana and Movistar started drilling it on the front, hoping the big split between the front group with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and the second group with danger men Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), would last until the end. The chasing group – and a smaller one behind them – were being hampered by the wind and it looked as if Movistar’s ‘we give no quarter’ policy was working at distancing them. Once they turned inland, however, the madness seemed to stop, the pace slowed and the peloton came back together.

Jockeying for position as the final 4km cat 3 climb neared saw Ivan Basso‘s Cannondale team at the front of the peloton, with Orica-GreenEDGE taking over as the base of the climb loomed. From then on, it was every man for himself. The climb was short but steep, with an average gradient of 5% and ramps of up to 8%. Riders got shelled out the back, Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) took his obligatory (doomed) stab at glory, only to be passed by the fabulous Italian national jersey of Ivan Santaromita (BMC), who went clear at about 2.5km. With only a seven-second gap hitting the steepest gradients, it was always going to be a miracle for Santaromita to hang on, but it started to look as if there was hope. Until – blimey – Chris Horner, RadioShack’s 41-year-old veteran, sped past him and took the stage. Immediately behind him was the lead pack of GC contenders, who seemed content to man-mark each other and allow Horner his moment,

VeloVoices rider of the day

Bauke Mollema Vuelta

Bauke Mollema showed his mettle today (Image: Belkin)

Bauke Mollema is my rider of the day. He finished sixth in the stage – sixth – after having a day of #unluck. He was caught up in that big crash before the bridge, so he had to use a lot of energy to get back to the peloton. Then he had an altercation with some iron railings, just when the peloton was picking up the pace again and had to chase back for a few kilometres by himself. With teammates to help, he got back to the main group then methodically worked his way up to the front group. That’s some ride.

Analysis & opinion

Yesterday, Sergio Henao (Sky) had a hunger bonk and lost a load of time, but he still could have come back if he were able to stay with the leaders, bided his time and not let anything stupid happen. The same with Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Today, they finished outside the main group and lost more time. Now Henao is 3:02 down and Sanchez is 3:54 down. The race is only going to get harder. So they’re gone.

Sky has Rigoberto Uran sitting in seventh place, only 25 seconds off the lead, but more importantly 22 down from Nibali, one from Valverde and 31 ahead of Rodriguez all without, it seems, any help from his teammates as a number of them crashed halfway through the stage – including Henao – due to a lack of concentration. So Sky are going to have to abandon their plan for Henao as team leader and put what firepower they have behind Uran – a rider who will take valuable points with him next season to OPQS. Uran is looking good and could well do something audacious in the mountains this coming weekend.

Movistar are looking strong and Valverde seems to be bossing the peloton a bit. That said, Nibali doesn’t have to boss it yet so time will tell whether Valverde has the goods when Astana get serious about the red jersey, especially during the final week. And where is Rodriguez? He doesn’t seem to be on form just yet – he should have been able to win this stage easily – but he is keeping with his rivals and staying safe so he can keep riding along stealthily for the time being. There’ll be plenty of excruciatingly steep finishes for him in the next few weeks.

And what about Chris Horner? Well, I never …

Stage 3 result

1. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) 4:30:18

2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:03

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time

4. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t

5. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

General classification

1. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) 9:37:40

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:03

3. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:11

4. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:13

5. Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:23

6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:24

7. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +0:25

8. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:35

9. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:44

10. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:45

Points classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Mountains classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Combination classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Team classification: RadioShack-Leopard.

Link: Official website

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