Stage 14: Baga to Andorra. Collada de la Gallina, 155.7km
On a day when heavy rain and cold made an already torturous stage even more unbearable, and forcing the withdrawal of his team leader Ivan Basso, Daniele Ratto shrugged off everything and everyone to ride alone, undaunted and unchallenged to the summit of the Collada de la Gallina and claim a maiden grand tour stage, his first win of the season and only the second of career. Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali again displayed his ability in poor conditions, consolidating his overall lead.
Cannondale’s Ratto was among a high quality five-man break, alongside the rainbow jersey of Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Luis Leon Sanchez and Graeme Brown (both Belkin) and Steve Chainel (Ag2r La Mondiale). The quintet took a lead of nearly 12 minutes to the start of the day’s first climb, the beyond-category Port de Envalira, a monstrous 26.7km ascent taking the riders to 2,410 metres, the highest point of this year’s race.
Chainel and Brown soon dropped back, and once Gilbert had led the remaining trio over the summit Ratto went clear. Sanchez fell, dropped back and later abandoned, leaving Gilbert stranded in no-man’s land.
After the last two weeks’ summer heat, plummeting temperatures – a chilly 5ºC at the summit of the Envilara – only added to the peloton’s misery, with Ratto’s team leader Ivan Basso (hypothermia) one of 14 riders who failed to finish the stage. Further splits developed on the descent and the two subsequent cat 2 mountains, with a group including three Euskaltel-Euskadi riders going off the front for a time and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) falling off the back (although he would eventually recover).
Ratto’s advantage over the red jersey peloton was nine minutes at the start of the concluding climb of the Collada de la Gallina (7.2km, 8% average). Down to his last reserves as he laboured up the steeper sections, he would lose more than half of that advantage by the finish. No matter. He had time to smile, wave and pop a weary half-wheelie before crossing the line nearly four minutes ahead of anyone else.
His closest pursuers numbered just two, as the elite peloton gradually split apart on the climb. Vincenzo Nibali‘s Astana team delivered the red jersey into the box seat ready to follow Chris Horner‘s (RadioShack-Leopard) final acceleration. The Shark of Messina tracked Horner’s every pedal-stroke up the mountain until easing past him in the final couple of hundred metres to secure second and extend his overall advantage. Horner, third, was 48 seconds ahead of Valverde and 3:27 in front of Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), leapfrogging both in the GC as he jumped from fourth to second overall.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Usually I make a point of not making the stage winner my rider of the day. Sometimes, however, there can be no dispute. Daniele Ratto, a fourth-year pro, is still only 23. Happier on classics parcours than on big climbs, his performance in outlasting riders of the quality of Gilbert and Luis Leon Sanchez on an atrocious day was outstanding. He won this stage on the descent of the Envilara, pulling out around 25 seconds on Gilbert which the Belgian never looked like closing. And if we shared his pain and difficulty in keeping the pedals turning over on the latter stages of the final climb, it was just as gratifying to witness the delight and relief as he churned his way towards the line.
Carlton Kirby mentioned in his Eurosport commentary that this win rescued Cannondale’s Vuelta after the loss of Basso. That much is true, but it’s also the making of a young career which had seen him finish second or third in races six times since his previous victory in 2010.
Analysis & opinion
What a difference a day makes. We suspected this stage would shake up the general classification. We were right.
This time yesterday, Nicolas Roche was second, 31 seconds back and looking a solid bet for a podium finish. Tonight he is sixth, 4:06 down and nearly 2½ minutes off third place. He was one of the first to struggle today, and he will probably be relieved that his losses were relatively limited. Conversely, Chris Horner was widely written off after a mediocre time trial, with the received wisdom being that his 41-year-old legs would soon fade. Not so today – Nibali aside, he was the strongest of all. His reward: second overall, nearly a minute ahead of Valverde and over two in front of Rodriguez.
Basso aside, the day’s biggest loser was Roche’s teammate Rafal Majka, on a day Saxo-Tinkoff as a team will want to forget. The young Pole cracked, losing 19 minutes to Nibali and free-falling from ninth to 26th overall.
This was the first bumper day in the mountains competition, so it’s no surprise that the day’s two leading protagonists, Ratto and Gilbert, now occupy the top two spots in the classification. Similarly, Valverde‘s strong recovery enabled him to jump to the top of the standings in the points race. Horner leads the combined classification from Nibali.
Expect more significant gains and losses over the next two days. With the weather making things even more gruelling today, fatigue could have a big impact on the GC heading into the final rest day.
One final footnote. You may recall a stage at this year’s Giro where TV coverage was similarly affected by bad weather, to the extent that we only saw the final few hundred metres. That was also stage 14, a summit finish, with the runner-up on the stage being Vincenzo Nibali, wearing the leader’s jersey, as the second half of an Italian one-two. Nibali would never relinquish his lead. Will we see history repeat itself over the next week?
Stage 14 result
1. Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) 4:24:00
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +3:53
3. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +3:55
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +4:11
5. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +4:19
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 53:56:59
2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:50
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:42
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:57
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +3:43
6. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +4:06
7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +4:34
8. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +5:42
9. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +6:28
10. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +6:45
Points classification: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Mountains classification: Daniele Ratto (Cannondale).
Combination classification: Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).
Team classification: Astana.
Link: Official website