Vuelta stage 19: Purito takes stage, Horner takes red

Stage 19: S Vicente Barquera to Oviedo. alto Naranco, 181km

It was supposed to be the calm before tomorrow’s Angliru storm and it should have been a breakaway win. But, as with almost everything about this Vuelta, it did not go according to the script.

Vuelta 2013 Stage 19 profile

Sky seemed to have taken inspiration from yesterday’s win by Vasil Kiryienka and the long break saw Edvald Boasson Hagen and Georg Preidler (Argos-Shimano) stay out until the base of the final climb. By this time, the riders behind the huddle of GC contenders at the front of the peloton were all over the road due to the scorching pace put down by Saxo-Tinkoff, in the service of Nicolas Roche. Any and all attacks were shut down by the Saxos until suddenly a Katusha firecracker in the form of Joaquim Rodriguez streaked past them and under the flamme rouge before they could do anything. He took the stage with the kind of performance only he can give.

As usual, however, it was the drama unfolding behind the stage winner that had everyone on the edge of their seats. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) was able to pull away from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to get a gap of six seconds on the Italian. That flipped the GC top two as Horner went from being three seconds behind to three in front and back into the red jersey for the third time. It’s all to play for on the Angliru tomorrow.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Finally Joaquim Rodriguez did what I’ve been waiting for him to do all year: use that explosive power to leave everyone eating his dust and take a stage in style.

I’m really happy. I’m an ambitious rider and I wanted this victory. Today I got closer to the podium, my final goal. Tomorrow we have Angliru, which will be crucial for general classification. Every climber would love to win tomorrow.

Analysis & opinion

Let’s just run through the top five, shall we, as they all have a part to play in the story to unfold tomorrow.

First of all, there’s fifth place Nicolas Roche, who isn’t necessarily racing against anyone in the top five – he’s nearly two minutes down from fourth place Rodriguez – or because he’s worried about sixth place Domenico Pozzovivo, but he is racing. And racing with his whole heart. It’s pride on the line for Nico and he’s not going to settle down until the cava starts flowing free in Madrid. I like that. It’s one of the great stories of this Vuelta.

Then there’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who is 51 seconds down from third place Alejandro Valverde. That seems like a lot but with the 20%-plus gradients on the Angliru tomorrow, it’s a stage that Purito could go up as if he were shot out of a gun. Valverde has been riding a great race so far – if he gets dropped on a climb, he always manages to get back and minimise any damage, but he isn’t gaining any ground on Horner, Nibali or Rodriguez. It feels like Valverde is the sort of Juan Antonio Flecha of the top five – in no man’s land, trying to make inroads, but who might possibly be passed by someone coming up behind him. He’ll need to watch Purito tomorrow or else he could get leapfrogged.

Which brings us to the almighty tussle at the top of the GC. It’s been nip-and-tuck between Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner the entire Vuelta and tomorrow is where – possibly – it all gets sorted out. Horner looks stronger than ever and momentum is certainly going his way. It would be foolish to bet against him being on the top step in Madrid if he has a day tomorrow like the ones he’s had today and yesterday.

Nibali, on the other hand, looks just plain tuckered out. He’ll need his team around him like never before but at the end of this stage, all five of these guys will most likely be on their own when it’s crunch time. I would pick Rodriguez to win the stage and possibly get his podium place, but can Nibali take back the red? Well, the forecast is for rain and lots of it tomorrow – something the Sicilian seems to thrive on. It might just take the edge off his fatigue enough to make something happen.

Stage 19 result

1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 4:16:13

2. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +0:11

3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) same time

4. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

5. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:14

General classification

1. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) 77:56:05

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:03

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:06

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:57

5. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +3:49

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +6:00

7. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +6:38

8. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +7:02

9. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +7:45

10. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +11:05

Points classification: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Mountains classification: Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).

Combination classification: Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).

Team classification: Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Link: Official website

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