Vuelta Stage 15: 'Home' win as Alexandre Geniez of FDJ takes solo victory in French Pyrenees
Spanish Grand Tour crossed border today to pay tribute to 100th Tour de France; Nibali retains overall lead
On a day when the 68th edition of the Vuelta a Espana crossed the Pyrenees to celebrate this year's 100th edition of the Tour de France, it was a French rider on a French team - Alexandre Geniez of FDJ - who claimed victory on the summit finish at Peyragudes this afternoon, with his closest purrsuer just over 3 minutes behind.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana finished 3 minutes 20 back, crossing the line in a group that included RadioShack-Leopard's Chris Horner, and leads the American in the overall standings by 50 seconds, with third-placed Alejandro Valverde of Movistar - winner of a Tour de France stage here last year - as further 52 seconds back.
Geniez, aged 25 and from Rodez, a couple of hundred kilometres north west of today's stage finish, got into a big break early on in today's 225km stage from Andorra, which included four big climbs, all Category 1, the first of those being the Coll del Canto.
Although early rain made some sections hazardous with roads not fully dried out, conditions were nowhere near as bad as they had been on yesterday's Stage 15 to Andorra, with Cannondale's Ivan Basso and Luis Leon Sanchez of Belkin both abandoning through hypothermia.
With more than 120km remaining to ride over the Port de la Bonargua and the Col du Port de Bales ahead of that final climb which also included the summit of the Col du Peyresourde followed by a sharp descent ahead of the final climb to Peyragudes, Geniez found himself in a group of six riders who had managed to break away from 19 other escapees.
On the Col du Port de Bales - scene of the infamous 'chaingate' incident involving yellow jersey Andy Schleck in 2010 - Geniez and Andre Cardoso of Caja Rural were alone in front, but it was the FDJ rider who managed to get away, riding flat out on the descent to maintain his advantage and take the biggest win of his career.
Alexandre Geniez wins Vuelta Stage 15 (© Unipublic/Graham Watson)
Following the stage, Geniez said: "My first pro win was at the 2011 Tour of Austria. It happened in similar conditions as today.
"Winning the queen stage of the Vuelta is something exceptional for me. I’d like to win more often but we, as climbers, don’t have as many opportunities as the sprinters. It’s great. I’ll remember this moment all of my life."
Reflecting on how the day panned out, he refklected: "Firstly I want to position myself at the front for being useful to Thibaut Pinot in case of the group of the favorites would come across. But thirty riders never form a very organized peloton.
"I wanted to go as far as I could and only keep motivated riders with me. I didn’t want anybody who was saving energy for later. A mountain stage victory must be well deserved. I hope I do. I gain a fair bit of time in the downhills. I hope this success will be followed by others."
Asked about his lacklustre start to the 2013 season, the Frenchman said: "At Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al Pais vasco, I suffered a lot from the bad weather. I’ve doubted about myself. Race after race, I found it hard to finish in a good state of form.
"I became confident again at the Dauphiné, which allowed me to get selected for the Tour. I’ve done okay at the Tour but as a team, we didn’t get what we wanted for some reasons. I came out of the Tour tired but not exhausted.
"The staff offered me the possibility to ride the Vuelta, which was not on my provisional schedule. I thought about it for a few days and I accepted because the Vuelta is better than other races for my development. It was the right choice. However, there’s one week left. It won’t be easy. I’m going to chill out first," he added.