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Joaquim Rodríguez won stage 19 of the Vuelta a España on Friday at Alto Naranco, Spain. Rodríguez (Katusha) attacked late on the Alto Naranco climb to ride solo to victory.
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) was second in the 181-kilometer leg from Vicente Barquera to the Cat. 2 finish climb above Oviedo. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) was third, finishing on same time as Ulissi, at 11 seconds.
“I’m super happy,” said Rodríguez. “It was a big test today. Tomorrow, though, will be more complicated than today. … It’s a very special kind of day; everyone knows about it and I hope to be up there in front and go for another stage.”
In the GC race, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) dropped off the pace of overnight runner-up Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) and ceded his red leader’s jersey to the 41-year-old American. Horner rolled across the line with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), third overall, to take the overall lead with one final mountain test left in the Vuelta.
Horner now leads Nibali by three seconds. Valverde remains in third, at 1:06. Rodríguez is fourth, at 1:57.
“It’s always nice to have the red jersey again. I didn’t expect it today, I thought maybe tomorrow,” said Horner. “It’s a big surprise. The climb was hard but not that hard. It was more a game of tactics. I had Nibali on my wheel and Valverde on my wheel when Rodríguez attacked, so I let him go to force Valverde to chase.”
The 68th Vuelta continues Saturday with the 142km stage 20, from Avilés to the Alto de L´Anglirú.
José Joao Mendes (NetApp-Endura) was the final survivor from the day’s long breakaway and carried a 45-second advantage into the final 3km.
Saxo-Tinkoff led the chase onto the upper reaches of the finish climb, pulling roughly 15 men toward the 10-percent ramps high above Oviedo. With 1.2km to go, Mendes was finished, Saxo surging past.
Nicolas Roche (Saxo) countered the catch. After a moment’s hesitation, the Irishman accelerated, drawing out Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida). Rodríguez countered Roche, however, and blasted away from the group into the barriers.
The diminutive Spanish climber took a dozen seconds into the final kilometer and could not be matched.
The GC group detonated behind Rodríguez. Horner forced Valverde to chase and the pair was able to ditch Nibali in the final 500 meters.
“You always want to win, but there isn’t much energy left into the tank,” said Valverde. “‘Purito’ played his cards really well, and when he jumped, all the rivals looked at me, put all pressure on me to chase, and I couldn’t do much more. We have gone through very hard days in this Vuelta, always full gas; we’re feeling quite tired at the moment.”
When he pulled on the red jersey, Horner set a new mark for the oldest rider to lead a grand tour. He set the previous record earlier in the Vuelta.
“Today was our last chance,” said Rodríguez. “Tomorrow is such a hard stage and Horner is such on good form. The team worked hard for the win today. I really wanted to get this stage victory. The podium will be hard. I took back a little time today, but the Anglirú will put everyone in their place. The Anglirú never pardons.”
Horner said he expected to defend in Saturday’s tilt at the Anglirú.
“At the moment the legs are fantastic,” he said. “I like the very steep climbs so, if the legs are the same tomorrow, I think I should have the jersey in Madrid.”