Valverde (3rd) gets over hardest day in Haza Llana, stays in 4th overall before first rest day in the Vuelta. Exhibition by Horner (RLT), back in the race lead
Alejandro Valverde fought to his physical limits in the biggest Andalusian mountain stage of the 2013 Vuelta a España, a 167km trek between Jaén and the HC-rated Alto de Haza Llana via the gruelling Monachil (Cat-1), 27k from the finish. The Movistar Team took command into the bunch at the first climb after a really fast start, with attacks flying through the field in an impressive, opening two hours of racing. A 19-man breakaway with two Blue riders -Javi Moreno and José Herrada- was caught by Katusha, who later chose to let a ten-rider group go, with no GC contenders featuring in the split. Amongst them, Granada-based Polish rider Thomas Marczynski (VCD) was the last survivor against an elite group of just 30 riders, the pace made by a resolutive Sylwester Szmyd.
Herrada led the descent and also the first slopes of the final climb before leaving space for Capecchi, who continued the pacemaking and even dropped GC leader Moreno (KAT). However, the attacks from Chris Horner (RLT), into the hardest part of the climb, and Vincenzo Nibali (AST), 3k from the top, left no chance to the rest of the favourites. Valverde even lost contact with the main group with 5km remaining, later recovering in style to complete the day in 3rd place, taking the final four bonus seconds. Horner takes back over the lead of the Vuelta, with Valverde in the same 4th place he started the day, now 1.02 adrift.
The Spanish grandtour leaves for Zaragoza this evening: a 740km journey the riders will complete by plane, with the rest of the race’s convoy doing it by car. The first rest day will preceed the important, 39km ITT in Tarazona on Wednesday.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde: “I had already stated that today was the stage where we would be really seeing who were the biggest candidates for the Vuelta overall, with two real climbs along the way. Horner was a surprise, but I don’t think it was too much, because he was already riding well – the time gap might have been it, a minute is quite a difference. When he won his first stage, he already proved strong, but he won convincingly today. The rest of us – Nibali, Purito, Basso, Pinot or Roche – we’re all pretty much close to each other right now. Nibali got a bit of a gap today, but we’re all quite strong. I don’t know if the current situation will change the race’s development, as Nibali, Purito and myself looked to each other a bit, but we also knew we weren’t the only podium contenders, and everyone could see it today.
“I dropped a bit with 5k to go because I knew the climb really well – we had trained a lot on these roads and I knew I had to set my own pace. I took some breath and could close the gap again; even though I suffered a lot, I found myself better after that. As I’m saying, it was the first real mountain stage today, and there’s still a long way to go. I have to thank and congratulate my team because they were splendid today once again. We’re really willing to get that rest day, though it will be a bit more active than usual since we have the TT on Wednesday. It seems like a hard time trial, so it shouldn’t be bad for me. We’ll put some guts on it and suffer as much as we can.”