Vuelta a Espana

Bola del Mundo likely to decide Vuelta a España

Three kilometers of a rough, seasonal cement road strewn along the top of a mountain ridge will crown the 2010 Vuelta a España champion.

Three kilometers of a rough, seasonal cement road strewn along the top of a mountain ridge will crown the 2010 Vuelta a España champion.

Mosquera's attack on stage 15 took significant time out of Nibali over just 900 meters.
Mosquera's attack on stage 15 took significant time out of Nibali over just 900 meters.

The battle Saturday up the Bola del Mundo summit will be a fitting end to what’s been one of the most exciting and hard-fought Vueltas in years. With forecasters calling for rain showers and the GC still wide open, the 2010 Vuelta couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to three weeks of unrelenting action.

Sitting in the pole position is Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who widened his lead to Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) to 50 seconds in the end of Friday’s technically challenging run into Toledo. The Italian, already third in this year’s Giro d’Italia, is quietly confident the extra seconds will help him win his first grand tour.

“Those seconds will come in handy tomorrow on Bola del Mundo. I know my team will support me and then it’s up to me on the final climb. I am confident I will be able to hang on,” Nibali said. “Mosquera is the most dangerous, but the others will attack as well. I think I have the legs to respond.”

Mosquera got disconnected in the high-speed run into Toledo on Friday, but the veteran Spanish rider knows he still has the opportunity of a lifetime to try to win the Vuelta. At 34, Mosquera has won only one stage race in his life (the two-day, three-stage Clasica de Alcobendas in 2008), but he’s poised to claim the biggest prize in Spain.

“I know I need to have a great day, but I am going to give everything I have,” Mosquera said. “I have nothing to lose. I don’t want to race thinking about just finishing on the podium. I have to go with the idea of winning everything. We’ll see what happens on the climb.”

Stacked up behind the leading pair are at least a half-dozen riders who still believe they have a chance to finish on the podium Sunday in Madrid.

Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia) lit up the time trial Wednesday to vault into third place and he now has nearly a two-minute lead on fourth-place Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). Six riders — from Rodríguez at 3:54 back to Carlos Sastre in ninth at 4:28 back — are stacked up within a half-minute of each other.

“Anyone in the top 10 could still end up on the podium,” said Cervélo sport director Philippe Mauduit. “Mosquera and Nibali might be too far ahead to catch, but the final spot on the podium is still within reach.”

The final hump up to the Bola del Mundo summit will be the site of an intense final battle. The stage is already brutal, with passages up both sides of the Cat. 1 Alto de Navacerrada. The final climb is from the Madrid side and then turns right up the formidable final 3.4km with ramps as steep as 20 percent.

The final summit tops out at 2,265 meters, where altitude will play a factor, with an average grade of 11.7 percent.

The exciting finale underscores what’s been a demanding and nail-biting Vuelta. Riders in the peloton agree that the 2010 Vuelta is probably the toughest they’ve seen in years.

“This Vuelta has been very good. Every day they throw something at us, whether it’s a tough climb in the middle of the stage or a tricky finish,” said Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions). “It hasn’t been easy, especially with the heat in the first week. I don’t know if it’s ASO having an influence, but everything from the route, to the roads to the hotels have been better. It’s been fun to race.”