Stage 15: Andorra to Peyragudes, 224.9km
It seemed fitting that on the stage that crossed from Andorra to France in tribute to the 100th Tour de France a young Frenchman would cross the finish line first. FDJ’s Alexandre Geniez took the solo win to seal a brilliant breakaway ride, while the top five in the GC came in together nearly 3½ minutes later.
Yesterday’s cold and wet stage took a toll on the peloton with abandonments a go-go today, including Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Zdenek Stybar and Tony Martin (both OPQS), each of whom probably had an eye on being fresh for the upcoming World Championships too. Today’s stage had better weather but was still difficult, with four cat 1 climbs, including the Port de Bales and the Peyresourde. A 28-man break got away about 40km into the stage on the climb of the Puerto del Canto. From there, a smaller break went away on the next climb, then Geniez and Andre Cardoso (Caja Rural) struck out on their own on the Port de Bales. Geniez used his superior descending skills to drop Cardoso on the descent, riding the rest of the stage alone, never in danger of being caught.
The GC group went through the same sort of winnowing, with the peloton splintering again and again across the final climbs of the day. Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) attacked on the top of the Port de Bales to try to catch the remnants of the larger break between the red jersey group and Geniez, making contact with teammate Oliver Zaugg and NetApp-Endura’s JJ Mendes to form a trio for much of the final climb. He stayed the course while the others dropped back and in the end it was only Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) from that original breakaway between Nico and Geniez at the finish.
Behind those little groups was a 15-man peloton with red jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), which included not only the top five in the GC but riders such as Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack-Leopard), who was there to set tempo for Chris Horner. Soon, however, with digs by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) coming in quick succession, the top five were on their own. Try as they might, no amount of attacks would split the group any smaller, although it looked for a while like Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) might be a casualty, yo-yoing a bit off the back from time to time. In the end, Nibali led them all together over the finish line with no change in the GC.
VeloVoices rider of the day
You have to love a Frenchman who wins a stage atop an iconic French climb. And only the fourth French rider to win a Vuelta stage on home soil! Young Alexandre Geniez made the longest stage of this year’s race his own – starting out in the larger breakaway, always taking the initiative to get into smaller and smaller groups, until he was all alone on the last climb with precious minutes in hand. He kept his cool, zipped his jersey and gave a wonderful smile as he came across the line.
Analysis & opinion
Yesterday and today were supposed to be stages that consolidated the top five and they did. Vincenzo Nibali looked in control on both stages – this man has the same expression in the sunshine or in the driving rain – and he looks pretty comfortable in that jersey. Today, he countered all the attacks he needed to, knowing that with a 50-second cushion between him and second-placed Horner – and nearly a minute more on Valverde – it was up to the others to try something. They did try, but nothing stuck and Nibali made sure he was first over the line in this group, just to show them that, hey, it’s no fluke he’s in red.
It feels like, at the moment, the top of the GC is going to stay as it is, with them clustered together on the stages. They still have a lot of climbing to do, including the penultimate stage on the Angliru, so audacious attacks are not forthcoming from these guys – yet. It’s more interesting in the second half of the top ten, with Nico Roche still firing up the stages, and youngsters Thibault Pinot (FDJ) and Leopold Konig (NetApp) determined to make their mark. Perhaps it will be one of these guys who will make an attack that tests the top five? Time will tell.
Stage 15 result
1. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) 6:20:12
2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) +3:03
3. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +3:07
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +3:20
5. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) same time
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 60:20:21
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) +3:49
7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +4:59
8. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +6:18
9. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +6:28
10. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +6:45
Points classification: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Mountains classification: Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).
Combination classification: Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).
Team classification: Astana.
Link: Official website