Vincenzo Nibali went down swinging and he’s also buying the beers in Madrid.
The winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia give it everything on the 20% grade of the Angliru, hitting Chris Horner (RadioShack) multiple times to no avail. He fought like a champion but it was the ageless Horner who will ride into Madrid as the oldest grand Tour winner in history.
The Angliru did not fail to deliver the final dramatic scenes in what was arguably one of the most thrilling grand tours in recent memory. With roughly six kilometers to go, Nibali launched his first attack as mist shrouded the road and obscured the camera views.
He managed a gap of 11 seconds and for a moment it appeared the bold move might crack a rider who will be 42 in October. But Horner slowly battled back, towing Rodriquez and Valverde up to Nibali.
Then the Italian again showed his courage and willpower by accelerating once more. He hit Horner with everything he had left in his legs. He’d throw in several more attacks but finally, with two kilometers to go it was Nibali who cracked as Horner lifted the pace and pulled away.
“I made a mistake the first time he attacked and let him recover. Instead I realised that what worked for me at the beginning was the best, to keep my power as high as possible so he couldn’t ever recover,” said Horner. “Then I finally decided to go to the front and set my own tempo.”
Up into the clouds he went, road narrowing, almost obscured in the mist. He couldn’t catch 21 year old Kenny Elissonde — a rider half his age — but he took second, 28 second back and with the time bonus, extended his lead over Nibali to 37 seconds.
Barring a terrible misfortune tomorrow on the ceremonial sprint into Madrid, Horner will make history as the winner of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana. For an old man without a contract, injured for five months, who had just one race for preparation, it is the most astounding victory of the year.
“This is a legendary moment. It hasn’t taken much time for me to realize what I’ve achieved because I’ve been fighting for this for so long. This is great,” said Horner. “It is the greatest thing that I’ve ever achieved. I still can’t believe it. Many thanks to everyone.”
Backstage after the stage, Horner supposedly said to Nibali: “Please stop attacking”… “You are buying the beers in Madrid” Or maybe that tweet quote was made up by Race Radio. No matter, it sure fits the moment and for Horner it only made the triumph that much sweeter. “I loved that Nibali put up such a fight, and such a dark place I had to dig to, to win this race.”
There was proof once again today that trying to win two grand tours in a season is a tall order. Nibali was missing 15 to 20 watts from his Giro performance and what he lacked in power output he tried to make up with tenacity. As Taylor Phinney tweeted, “Che spettacolo e che classe!” The man has class and he has no regrets: he left it all on the Angliru.
His Astana squad played the right cards but perhaps failed in timing and execution. Teammates Jakob Fuglsang and Paolo Tiralongo were up the road, waiting to help pace Nibali in his attack. However, it appeared that when Nibali launched his most serious attack, Tiralongo was still too far ahead and slow to drop back. Both later joined the elite selection with Horner, Valverde, Rodriquez and Nibali, but it was too little, too late.
Horner has been waiting for a moment like this for his whole career. “I don’t need any time for this to sink in, I’ve had lots of time to think about it and what this accomplishment would be like,” he said. “I’ve had lots of time to think about how much I suffered to get here, and the feelings I have now will last a lifetime.”
Madrid is tomorrow and there’s a nice wheelchair waiting for Horner — who had to be lifted up off the road by four RadioShack staffers after laying exhausted just past the finish line. “Let’s go,” said Horner as they got him standing. Yup, let’s go to Madrid.
Should be the party of the year. After all, Vincenzo Nibali is buying the first round.