Carlos Barredo of Quickstep used his local knowledge forged through training on perhaps Spanish cycling’s most famous climb to solo his way to take Stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana at Lagos de Covadonga this afternoon.
Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas retains the race leader’s red jersey, with the big loser in terms of the GC today being Cervélo TestTeam’s Xavier Tondo, who struggled with the pace set by his rivals on the final climb, losing more than a minute and a half to the top three in the overall standings.
Today’s stage winner hails from the Asturian capital Oviedo, which lies some 50km to the west of the finish, and Barredo explained after crossing the line more than a minute ahead of Cofidis rider Nico Sijmens that the ascent has formed part of his training regime since his earliest days as a cyclist.
It’s the biggest win of the 29-year-old’s career, eclipsing his victory further along Spain's northern coast in last year’s Clasica de San Sebastian, and comes as a reward for his combative approach on the bike – although this year, he’s proved to be equally pugnacious off it, given his very public punch-up in July’s Tour de France with Caisse d’Epargne’s Rui Costa.
The town of Covadonga occupies a special place in the Spanish national psyche – it’s where, in 722AD, the Christians won their first major victory against the Moors to begin the Reconquista, which would take eight centuries to complete – and to the country’s cyclists, the climb to the lakes above the town has a status similar to that of the Alpe d’Huez to the French.
Past winners here include Laurent Jalabert twice and Britain’s Robert Millar in 1986, on his way to finishing second overall, but in a country where regional identity often overrides nationality, this evening local fans will be celebrating not just a Spanish, but an Asturian winner.
The 187km stage from Solares had a mainly flat profile as it followed the Cantabrian coast before heading inland with some 45km to go, the road rearing up as it headed into the Picos de Europa and the summit finish, reached after a climb of 15km with an average gradient of 7%, but including some notoriously difficult sections including one called La Huesera – the Ossuary – where the gradient rose to 13%.
With race leader Nibali’s Liquigas-Doimo team setting a cracking pace early on in an attempt to prevent any breaks from getting away, it wasn’t until some 60km into today’s race that a group managed to escape, and when it did, there were 15 riders in it, with Barredo the best placed in the GC, occupying 47th place, almost 40 minutes down on the Sicilian.
One by one riders fell off the back of the escape group as the rode started to rise, and when the Quickstep rider launched his attack 10km out, no-one could stay with him on a day when one of the main problems facing the riders wasn't the heat experienced earlier in the race, but much cooler temperatures of around 18 degrees and conditions that got progressively damper on the climb towards the finish.
Further back, Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobeo-Galicia, third overall, launched an attack of his own against GC rivals including Nibali and Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, taking 11 seconds out of the pair as he finished 2 minutes 15 seconds behind Barredo, but otherwise the top three of the GC remains unchanged.
Vuelta Stage 15 result 1 BARREDO, Carlos (Quickstep) 4h 33' 09'' 2 SIJMENS, Nico (Cofidis) + 1' 07'' 3 VELITS, Martin (HTC-Columbia) + 1' 43'' 4 VAN AVERMAET, Greg (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 2' 06'' 5 CAZAUX, Pierre (Francaise des Jeux) + 2' 10'' 6 KAISEN, Olivier (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 2' 12'' 7 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 2' 15'' 8 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 2' 26'' 9 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 2' 26'' 10 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 2' 26'' 11 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 2' 45'' 12 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 3' 02'' 13 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 3' 02'' 14 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 3' 03'' 15 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofidis) + 3' 26'' 16 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 3' 30'' 17 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 3' 39'' 18 VAN GARDEREN, Tejay (HTC-Columbia) + 3' 41'' 19 PERAUD, Jean-Christophe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 3' 50'' 20 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 3' 54'' Vuelta overall standings after Stage 15 1 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) 65h 31' 14'' 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 4'' 3 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 39'' 4 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 2' 29'' 5 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 2' 30'' 6 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 2' 47'' 7 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 2' 48'' 8 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 3' 48'' 9 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 4' 29'' 10 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 5' 27'' 11 VAN GARDEREN, Tejay (HTC-Columbia) + 6' 05'' 12 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 6' 07'' 13 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofidis) + 6' 21'' 14 PERAUD, Jean-Christophe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 6' 23'' 15 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 7' 01'' 16 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 8' 20'' 17 URAN, Rigoberto (Caisse d'Epargne) + 9' 13'' 18 PLAZA, Ruben (Caisse d'Epargne) + 9' 23'' 19 GUSEV, Vladimir (Katusha) + 9' 30'' 20 CUESTA, Iñigo (Cervelo TestTeam) + 11' 38''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.