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Nicolas Roche leads Vuelta; Leopold Konig wins stage 8

Horner remains second overall, but Nibali slips to fourth — and the damage is worse for some other GC hopefuls

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Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) attacked on the final steeps of the Alto de Peñas Blancas to win stage 8 of the Vuelta a España on Saturday as the first gaps began to appear among the overall contenders.

Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and runner-up Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) were among those distanced on the grind to the finish line, which saw Konig take the flowers ahead of Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Nicholas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Horner held onto second overall, but he was behind a new race leader — Roche donned the red jersey, leading the American by 17 seconds and Moreno by the same amount. Nibali slipped to fourth overall at 18 seconds down.

“I am not used to having the leader’s jersey, but I like it, it is like a dream,” Roche said.

“Every year I come to the Tour of Spain I think about having the red jersey for one day and it is incredible to do it.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be in the lead but even just a day or two more would be a bonus.”

The 166.6km stage from Jerez de la Frontera to Alto Peñas Blancas saw a big break go: Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura), best placed at 11th overall at 45 seconds; Dominik Nerz (BMC); Matthew Busche (RadioShack Leopard); Rafael Valls Ferri (Vacansoleil-DCM); Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Thierry Hupond (Argos-Shimano); Ben Gastauer (Ag2r); Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp); Dario Cataldo (Sky); Francis De Greef (Lotto Belisol); Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar); Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge); Jorge Azanza Soto (Euskaltel-Euskadi); and Antonio Piedra Perez (Caja Rural).

As a clear and present danger on GC, Huzarski was encouraged to leave the break, and the escapees soldiered on until the lower slopes of the Alto de Peñas Blancas. The 14.5km category 1 climb to the finish served up an average grade of 6.6 percent, but began with grades of more than 12 percent before easing off slightly in the middle. The final few kilometers averaged 7.5 percent.

Nerz, Valls Ferri and Cataldo took off as the catch approached. Valls Ferri had trouble holding the wheel early on, but fought his way back to the leading duo on the middle portion of the climb to the finish.

With 10km to go the trio had 49 seconds on the pursuers, led by Fabian Cancellara on behalf of teammate Horner, who started the day just three seconds out of the overall lead.

Cancellara finally faded as Busche drifted back to lend a hand, and he paced Horner through the next few kilometers as the lead chase shrank to a couple dozen rider, including race leader Nibali, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and the usual suspects.

Valls Ferri fell off the pace again, and the other two were retrieved with 5km to race.

Igor Anton (Euskaltel) had a dig then, followed by Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano).

Ivan Santaromita (BMC) had a go, too, and Horner followed. Then Horner kicked once again and opened a small gap. He didn’t keep it — Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Nibali, Valverde and a number of others rode back up to him with 3km to go.

Basso and Nibali took the front with just over 2km to go. And then Leopold Konig jumped. The NetApp-Endura rider drew out Basso, Daniel Moreno, Thibault Pinot (FDJ) and Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff). Neither Horner nor Nibali could match the pace.

Konig caught Anton inside the red kite and pressed on alone. Basso led the chase past him as well. And then Roche and Moreno attacked, but they left it just that little bit too late. Konig took the win, with Moreno second and Roche third.

Horner crossed 11th at 23 seconds down, while Nibali hit the line in 16th at 27 seconds.

“It was quite surprising,” said Konig. “The first part of the climb was really steep but at the end it was quite steady and I knew that if I survived the first part I could survive until the end.

“My intention was just to go for the general classification rather than a stage win and try to get into the top 10. But when all the team is working for you it is something that gives you a lot of confidence. It is a dream come true.”

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Spain.