Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has won the nineteenth stage of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
The world number one launched a trademark attack as he passed beneath a flamme rouge pitched on the brutal gradients of the Alto Naranco.
A relentless pace on the final climb wrought a change at the head of the general classification, with Chris Horner (Radioshack-Leopard) wresting the red jersey from the shoulders of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) after finishing six seconds ahead of the Italian.
Rodriguez’ attack proved unanswerable, and he crossed the line some 11 seconds ahead of an elite chasing group that contained all of those with ambitions for overall victory.
He said: “As I saw the last kilometre, I attacked. It was very hard, but I did my best in order to win the stage. I’m an ambitious rider, and I strongly wanted this victory.”
The favourites’ teams set a ferocious pace on the final climb, with Nico Roche’s Saxo-Tinkoff squad making the early running in pursuit of lone escapee, Jose Mendes (NetApp-Endura).
Roche’s team-mate, Rafal Majka, points winner at the Tour of Poland, and white jersey holder for 10 stages of the Giro d’Italia, buried himself for the Irishman. With 2.5km remaining, and the frantic pace despatching a host of fringe contenders, including FDJ leader, Thibaut Pinot, Roche swept past his toiling team-mate and launched an early bid for victory.
Roche’s attack drew an immediate response from Horner, but the Irishman jumped again, gaining perhaps 50 metres on the chase group before being joined by Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi.
Mendes gritted his teeth up ahead, but with 1.2km remaining, Roche and Ulissi passed the toiling Spaniard. More importantly, the elite chasing group had significantly reduced the advantage of the leading duo.
Just 200 metres later, and with Roche and Ulissi only just regained, Rodriguez attacked decisively and disappeared up the road with a ferocity that seemed to leave his pursuers momentarily stunned.
Ulissi was the first to respond, but was passed by home town hero, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). ‘Samu’ was unable to retain his advantage, however, and he was passed by Ulissi, and by stage three winner, Dani Moreno, Rodriguez’ team-mate.
Three seconds later, Horner crossed the line with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), gaining the race lead for the American and cementing the Spaniard’s third place on GC.
The crowds craned their necks for a glimpse of the red jersey, but it was a full six seconds until Nibali crossed the line, and by then Horner’s celebrations had begun.
Tomorrow, everything could change again. The final climb of the stage, and of the race, is likely to decide the outcome of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana. The Alto del Angliru, whose gradients reach 21 per cent in places, looks set to have the final word.
Vuelta a Espana 2013: stage 19 – result
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha – 4.16.33
2) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +11″
3) Dani Moreno (ESP) – Katusha – ST
4) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
5) Chris Horner (USA) – Radioshack-Leopard +14″
6) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – ST
7) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +16″
8) Leopold Konig (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +20″
9) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – ST
10) Nicolas Roche (IRE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +23″
1) Chris Horner (USA) – Radioshack-Leopard +77.56.05
2) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +3″
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.06
4) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +1.57
5) Nicolas Roche (IRE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +3.49
6) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6.00
7) Leopold Konig (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +6.38
8) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ +7.02
9) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +7.45
10) Dani Moreno (ESP) – Katusha