Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel-Euskadi won Stage 16 of the Vuelta this afternoon after attacking off the front of a breakaway on the day's final climb to the summit finish at Cotobello, with Team Saxo Bank's Frank Schleck enjoying his best day of the race to take second place just over a minute behind, taking him to fourth in the overall standings, on a day of big changes in the general classification.
Once again, the red jersey has changed hands, Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo blowing up within the final couple of kilometres and losing 37 seconds to Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, who finished fourth.
Rodriguez now has a 33 second advantage over Nibali, who had led by four seconds this morning, but the Sicilian will be favourite to at least make that time back on Wednesday’s 46km individual time trial in Peñafiel.
Whatever happens on that stage – tomorrow is a rest day – the destination of the red jersey won’t be resolved until after Saturday’s ascent to the Bola del Mundo outside Madrid.
Moreover, with time bonuses on offer to the first three riders in that stage, the chances of Xacobeo-Galicia’s Ezequiel Mosquera, 53 seconds down on Rodriguez after his sixth-place finish today, can’t quite be discounted yet.
With the 65th edition of the Vuelta now in its final week, the racing was likely to be aggressive from the very start of today’s 181.4km stage, which included two Category 1 climbs ahead of the summit finish.
So it proved, with a series of attacks from the moment the race headed out of the Asturian port city of Gijon this morning, birthplace of yesterday’s stage winner Carlos Barredo of Quickstep.
Nibali himself was one of the riders who slipped into one of those early breakaways, his rivals’ teams chasing hard to bring it back, and when a ten-man escape group finally did get away, the highest placed rider was Caisse d’Epargne’s Luis Leon Sanchez, lying 15th, 7 minutes 1 second down on the race leader.
Other riders including the Euskaltel-Euskadi trio of Amets Txurruka, Juan Oroz and the eventual stage winner Nieve managed to bridge across from the peloton, while behind them the group containing the main general classification contenders started to break up as the pace quickened.
The catalyst for that was Team Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck, who started the day 2 minutes 48 seconds behind Nibali, the Luxembourg rider going on the attack on the day’s penultimate climb, the Category 1 Alto de la Corteberia.
Schleck was brought back ahead of the final climb, with Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo once more putting a huge amount of work in to protect his team mate Nibali’s red jersey.
However, the Saxo Bank rider went again on the final climb and this time there was no stopping him as he caught and passed all but Nieve, although Carlos Sastre did briefly threaten to overhaul him after attacking some 5km out.
With Kreuziger finally running out of steam as the main contenders neared the summit, both Rodriguez and Mosquera were able to take advantage of Nibali’s evident discomfort on the climb to set up what should be an thrilling denouement to the race in teh coming days.
Meanwhile, Xavier Tondo, dropped yesterday following an attack by Sastre, his CerveloTestTeam colleague, also found the going too tough today and slid down the general classification from fourth to eighth. AG2R-La Mondiale’s Nicolas Roche again paced himself extremely well to come home in eighth place on the stage, which sees the Irishman climb to fifth overall.
Vuelta Stage 16 result 1 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 4h 51' 59'' 2 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 1' 06'' 3 DE WEERT, Kevin (Quickstep) + 1' 08'' 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 1' 22'' 5 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 32'' 6 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 1' 40'' 7 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 1' 42'' 8 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 1' 44'' 9 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 1' 50'' 10 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 1' 59'' 11 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 2' 07'' 12 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofisis) + 2' 33'' 13 DI GREGORIO, Rémy (Francaise des Jeux) + 3' 24'' 14 LE MEVEL, Christophe (Francaise des Jeux) + 3' 24'' 15 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 3' 24'' 16 PETERSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 3' 24'' 17 ARROYO, David (Caisse d'Epargne) + 3' 24'' 18 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 3' 39'' 19 KREUZIGER, Roman (Liquigas-Doimo) + 3' 53'' 20 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio (Caisse d'Epargne) + 4' 26'' Vuelta overall standings after Stage 16 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) 70h 24' 39'' 2 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 33'' 3 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 53'' 4 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 2' 16'' 5 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 3' 01'' 6 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 4' 27'' 7 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 4' 29'' 8 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 4' 43'' 9 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 4' 53'' 10 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 6' 23'' 11 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 6' 30'' 12 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 7' 07'' 13 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofidis) + 7' 28'' 14 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 9' 33'' 15 PLAZA, Ruben (Caisse d'Epargne) + 12' 37'' 16 GUSEV, Vladimir (Katusha) + 12' 44'' 17 LE MEVEL, Christophe (Francaise des Jeux) + 13' 45'' 18 KASHECHKIN, Andrey (Lampre-Farnese Vini) + 14' 59'' 19 ARROYO, David (Caisse d'Epargne) + 17' 46'' 20 BAKELANDTS, Jan (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 17' 57''
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.