Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) cut through the rain and fog to win atop Lagos de Covadonga on Sunday.
The Spaniard, who had been part of a six-man break, countered an attack by fellow escapee Martin Velits (HTC-Columbia) on the beyond-category ascent and rode alone to the finish in the clouds as race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) found himself isolated and forced to defend his red leader’s jersey the hard way, at the front of a three-man chase.
Barredo was a popular victor — a local boy, he is from Asturias and lives in Gidon, where Monday’s stage will begin.
“I knew we’d have a chance today,” he said. “I was in all the attacks from the gun and I knew that we’d have to have an advantage. I’ve been fighting all season long for a big victory and I kept coming up short. I won the Clasica San Sebastian last year, but this is the most important victory so far in my career. I’m from this area, so to win in front of my friends and family makes it even sweeter.”
The rain comes down as the road goes up
The 187.3km 15th stage of the Vuelta a España took the peloton westward along Spain’s northern coast from Solares to Lagos de Covadonga. It was a mostly flat charge along the Bay of Biscay, but took a turn inland and into the Picos de Europa for the long climb of the day, to Lagos de Covadonga at the center of the Picos de Europa National Park.
And that one climb was a doozy — a beyond-category climb through rain and fog, it started at 174.8km and rose 12.5km to the finish at an average grade of 7.04 percent.
The final grind to the line actually included two summits — the first reached 1,115 meters near the finish, then the road dropped a bit before sending riders up the final kilometer on grades that hit 7.5 percent right before the line.
At the start, former Kelme rider Fernando Escartin talked about the climb.
“This is the mythical climb of the Vuelta,” he said. “For a Spanish rider, winning at the Lagos is as important as winning at the Mont Ventoux or l’Alpe d’Huez. It’s a pretty long climb, quite difficult at halfway. Someone like (Esquiel) Mosquera will be at his ease, more than yesterday at Pena Cabarga. The rain will not be a problem because there’s no downhill in this stage, but the road to the climb is difficult because it’s always up and down for the whole day.”
Crashes leave peloton damaged, decimated
One rider who would not be enjoying that legendary climb was former race leader Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who broke an elbow during a high-speed crash in Saturday’s stage and abandoned the Vuelta. Teammate Egoi Martínez also hit the deck, injuring a shoulder.
“Igor Anton’s left elbow is really broken and Egoi Martínez has a dislocation of his left shoulder,” said Euskaltel director Gorka Gerrikagoitia. “For us, this morning, it’s tough. It’s like having a hangover. The team is in great physical condition but our morale is low. It’s terrible to know that so many Basque fans are at the Lagos to support us.”
Caisse d’Epargne’s Marzio Bruseghin, who started Saturday’s stage in fifth place at 1:57, was also involved in that crash. It took him a while to get up, but he eventually finished 99th at 17:02, slipping to 32nd on GC at 18:06.
There was some speculation that he would pull out overnight, but he took the start on Sunday.
“Look at my right elbow: I have 14 or 15 stitches. Look at my left elbow: I have five or six stitches. I can’t move my right shoulder,” he said at the start. “My whole body hurts, but I’m still trying to race. I’m not a hero though. All the true heroes are dead and I sure won’t take unnecessary risks … especially if it rains all day.”
Caisse d’Epargne director Yvon Ledanois said the crash had shattered the team’s GC hopes.
“At the start of the Vuelta, we had five riders able to ride for GC. Arroyo crashed on stage 8, Luis Leon Sanchez isn’t going as well as at the Tour de France and we’ve lost the last three riders yesterday in the same crash as Igor Anton,” he said.
“Rubén Plaza was coming across after a flat tire, he had to slow down because of the crash and he never made it back to the front group. Rigoberto Uran crashed but with no major consequence. Marzio Bruseghin is badly injured. I’d be amazed if he could finish today’s stage. To have won two stages earlier on (with David Lopez and Imanol Erviti on stage 9 and 10 respectively) tempers the pain, but it’s still sad.”
One rider who did pull out was Rabobank’s Óscar Freire, who is preparing for worlds.
Liquigas keeps hold of the leash
Liquigas was being very picky as regards the break du jour — attacks came and went, and race leader Nibali’s team shut them all down in the first 50km. The pace proved too much for Omega Lotto’s Jelle Vanedert and Euskaltel’s Beñat Intxausti, who pulled out of the Vuelta.
And then finally, an acceptable group formed and started taking time as the rain began to fall.
The six in the break:
- Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)
- Olivier Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
- Martin Velits (HTC-Columbia)
- Greg Van Avermaet (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
- Nico Sijmens (Cofidis)
- Pierre Cazaux (Française des Jeux)
Barredo was best placed in the group at 47th, 39:16 off the lead.
With that in mind, Liquigas relaxed and the elastic stretched — to 4:10 at 82km, 7:10 at 91km, and 9:25 at 129km.
With 30km to go Caisse d’Epargne was leading the peloton and the gap was coming down, to 8:30. Four kilometers from the foot of the ascent to Lagos de Covadonga the escapees still had eight minutes, and Xacobeo Galicia was moving riders forward, thinking of third-placed Ezequiel Mosquera.
With a catch looking unlikely, there were two distinct races shaping up — one for the stage and the other for the overall.
The break explodes
Velits attacked out of the break only to see Barredo counter and zip past. Behind, the chase had closed a bit, to just under six minutes, driving along in the rain, cheered by spectators clad in ponchos and/or clutching umbrellas.
With 10km to race Barredo had 30 seconds over his former companions and six minutes on the GC group, now led by Liquigas. Nibali was there, sitting fourth wheel, along with Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions), Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale), Joachim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank).
The rain began bucketing down with 7km to go as the chase closed to within five minutes of Barredo, who was still on his own out front. The rest of the break had slipped to nearly a minute behind.
With 6km to go the climb was biting into Barredo’s legs, but he clung to his lead as fans ran alongside, clapping and cheering him on. Behind, Xacobeo Galicia was contributing to the pursuit.
And then Cervélo’s Carlos Sastre attacked, with Mosquera on his wheel. Others soon followed, but Sastre’s move split the GC group. Mosquera was next to inch off the front, slowly riding away from the group — and fourth-placed Xavier Tondo (Cervélo) popped, sliding out the back. Race leader Nibali, meanwhile, found himself isolated, without teammates.
With 3km to go Barredo was still all alone out front and Nibali had come to the front in defense of his red jersey. Rodriguez was with him, as was Velits. But Mosquera was taking time — the Xacobeo man was already 15 seconds up the road.
Further ahead, Barredo stamped the pedals, his mouth hanging open, forging on with 2km to race. At 1km to go he turned around and pointed to his chest for the TV moto following just behind, then accelerated into a slight, fog-shrouded descent.
As he hit the final ascent Barredo took one last look over his shoulder, and crossed the line alone for a well-earned win. Sijmens took second with Velits third. Mosquera nearly caught the remnants of the break, but in the end only took about 11 seconds back from Nibali, who retained his leader’s jersey. Rodriguez remains second at four seconds back with Mosquera third at 0:39.
“I was thinking about both the GC and the stage. I didn’t end up getting either, but I’m still alive in this Vuelta,” said Mosquera. “I didn’t have a great day, but I felt good. I’m OK in the rain. I had to try. The podium is getting close, but I still want to win a stage and maybe more.”
Second-placed Rodriguez was also thinking about a stage win — and about taking some time back from the race leader.
“Nibali was very strong today. I really had to dig deep today to stay on his wheel,” he said. “Tomorrow is even better for me so I need to take some time. I know that I will lose time in the time trial (against Nibali). I hope that I will stay have options going into Bola del Mundo. That’s an ideal stage for me to take back time and maybe win the stage.”
- 1. Carlos Barredo, Quick Step, 4:33:09
- 2. Nico Sijmens, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, at 1:07
- 3. Martin Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 1:43
- 4. Greg Van Avermaet, Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 2:06
- 5. Pierre Cazaux, Française des Jeux, at 2:10
- 1. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo
- 2. Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 0:04
- 3. Ezequiel Mosquera, Xacobeo Galicia, at 0:39
- 4. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 2:29
- 5. Xavier Tondo, Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:30