Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma-Lotto showed just why he is one of the big favourites for next month's World Championship Road Race in Australia, the Belgian holding off Garmin-Transition's Tyler Farrar to take Stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana Toledo this afternoon.
With a twisting, undulating approach to the finish in the medieval city which lies south west of Madrid, the peloton fractured inside the closing four kilometres due to a series of attacks, the first coming from Caisse d'Epargne's Luis Leon Sanchez, but once Gilbert made his move, there only looked like being one winner, and while Farrar was able to keep his wheel, he never looked like passing him.
Today's stage from Piedrahita was the longest of this year's race at 231 kilometres, just 31 kilometres short of the distance the pretenders to Cadel Evans' rainbow jersey will have to race between Melbourne and Geelong, and one of those to miss out on contesting the finish today was HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish.
The Manxman came home in 17th place, which means that Farrar has now slashed his lead in the points classification, which stood at 32 points this morning, to just 12 points, to set up what could be a thrilling conclusion for the battle for the green jersey in Madrid on Sunday.
Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobeo-Galicia, second in the general classification, crossed the line in 22nd place, 13 seconds behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo, giving the latter a 50-second cushion going into tomorrow’s decisive Stage 20, which culminates with the ascent of the Bola del Mundo, north west of the Spanish capital.
That climb, 22km long, and regularly used as a training climb by three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, starts off innocuously enough, but the gradient gets progressively difficult towards the summit, averaging more than 10% in each of the final four kilometres.
It could be an epic stage, especially if Nibali cracks in the same way he did on Monday’s ascent to Cotobello, when he lost time to Mosquera, and the race lead to Katusha’s Jouaquin Rodriquez, only to claim the red jersey back after the rest day as the Catalan suffered a disastrous individual time trial on Wednesday that saw his hopes of the overall win vanish.
One contest that will be settled tomorrow is the mountains competition, currently led by David Moncoutié of Cofidis, who won the polka dot jersey 12 months ago. The Frenchman is favourite to retain the jersey – although this year the dots are blue, rather than red – but his lead was cut to eight points today as his closest challenger, Serafin Martinez of Xacobeo-Galicia, beat him to the summit of the day’s only categorised climb.
Shortly afterwards Moncoutié and Martinez had locked horns to contest those points, a four man breakaway got away comprising Milram’s Dominik Roels, Astana’s Josep Jufre, Manuel Ortega of Andalucia-Cajasur and Xavier Florencio from Cervelo TestTeam got free.
However, while they managed to build a lead of 11 minutes at one point, as has happened throughout the race, they were reeled back in as Toledo loomed into sight, the peloton coming back together with 12 kilometres to go.
Vuelta Stage 19 result 1 GILBERT, Philippe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 5h 43' 41'' 2 FARRAR, Tyler (Garmin-Transitions) same time 3 POZZATO, Filippo (Katusha) + 1'' 4 HINAULT, Sébastien (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 1'' 5 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 1'' 6 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 1'' 7 MAES, Nikolas (Quickstep) + 1'' 8 BOLE, Grega (Lampre-Farnese Vini) + 1'' 9 BENNATI, Daniele (Liquigas-Doimo) + 1'' 10 VOSS, Paul (Milram) + 1'' 11 DAVIS, Allan (Astana) + 1'' 12 CARDOSO, Manuel (Footon-Servetto) + 7'' 13 TERPSTRA, Niki (Milram) + 7'' 14 MEERSMAN, Gianni (Francaise des Jeux) + 7'' 15 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 7'' 16 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 9'' 17 MORI, Manuele (Lampre-Farnese Vini) + 9'' 18 CAVENDISH, Mark (HTC-Columbia) + 9'' 19 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 9'' 20 MATA, Enrique (Footon-Servetto) + 9'' Vuelta overall standings after Stage 19 1 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) 80h 30' 48'' 2 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 50'' 3 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 1' 59'' 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 3' 54'' 5 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 3' 57'' 6 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 4' 02'' 7 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R-La Mondiale) + 4' 10'' 8 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 4' 12'' 9 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 4' 28'' 10 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 5' 50'' 11 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 7' 36'' 12 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 9' 09'' 13 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 9' 41'' 14 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofidis) + 10' 54'' 15 GUSEV, Vladimir (Katusha) + 12' 35'' 16 PLAZA, Ruben (Caisse d'Epargne) + 14' 12'' 17 LE MEVEL, Christophe (Francaise des Jeux) + 15' 30'' 18 KASHECHKIN, Andrey (Lampre-Farnese Vini) + 16' 31'' 19 BAKELANDTS, Jan (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 19' 44'' 20 LARSSON, Gustav (Team Saxo Bank) + 19' 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.