Leopold Konig has secured NetApp-Endura's maiden Grand Tour victory, winning Stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana on the Category 1 summit finish at Alto de Penas Blancas above Estepona. Saxo-Tinkoff's Nicolas Roche, whose father Stephen won the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, but not the Vuelta, becomes the new race leader after finishing third today.
The Czech climber Konig followed a move by Euskaltel-Euskadi's Igor Anton who had attacked with around 5km remaining of the final 14.5km ascent, overhauling the Spaniard in the final kilometre of the 170km stage from Jerez de la Frontera. He then held off a chasing group led home by Katusha's Daniel Moreno, who finished second, with Roche third.
On the latter part of the climb, the group containing the overall contenders, 30 strong as they entered the final 5km, was split apart as riders including Cannondale's Ivan Basso went on the attack.
Ivan Basso leads the charge (© Unipublic/Graham Watson)
By the top of the climb, time gaps had opened, resulting in a shake-up on GC, with overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali not only losing time to Roche - 26 seconds, once the 4 bonus seconds the Irishman obtained are factored in - but also ceding 4 seconds to RadioShack-Leopard's Chris Horner, whom he had led by just 3 seconds this morning.
Horner, who led the race for a day after winning Stage 3 - becoming in the process not only the oldest rider to win a Grand Tour stage, but also the oldest to lead one - moves to second overall, while the bonus seconds Moreno picked up, plus the time gap, help Moreno move up to third, with Nibali dropping to fourth.
Also losing time overall today were Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sanchez, who finished 40 seconds down on the stage winner, and Lampre-Merida's Michele Scarponi, who came home 57 seconds behind Konig.
Polish rider Bartosz Huzarski, who had finished second to Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez when riding last year's Giro d'Italia for NetApp - the German team would merge with UK-based Endura at the end of the season - got into today's break of 14 riders, and as the best-placed man on GC was briefly the virtual leader on the road.
But with Astana keeping the break in check to try and preserve Nibali's lead, Huzarski was forced to drop back to allow his breakaway companions leeway.
By the time the lead riders were on the lower slopes of the final climb, just three remained out in front - Team Sky's Dario Cataldo, a Vuelta stage winner in the colours of Omega Pharma-Quick Step last year, Dominik Nerz of BMC Racing, and Rafael Valls Ferri of Vacansoleil-DCM.
Cataldo and Nerz would be the final two escapees to be caught with 5km to go, with Anton - who crashed out of the 2010 Vuelta on Stage 14 while leading the race - immediately going on the attack.
Igor Anton attacks, Stage 8, 2013 Vuelta (© Unipublic/Graham Watson)
His efforts would be in vain, however, as the 25-year-old Konig - winner of a stage of the Tour of Britain last year and one in the Tour of California last May - caught and passed him late on for his biggest career victory.
Afterwards, Konig said: "I already reached my first goal as I started the Vuelta. This is my first Grand Tour. I’ve reached my second goal as I won today’s stage. That was a dream.
"Everyone at NetApp-Endura put efforts in order for me to win. I placed a first attack with 2km to go but Basso and a few more came across.
"I recovered a little bit and I set a steady pace when found myself away again.
"When I’ve seen Anton ahead of me, I accelerated and gave everything to win the stage.
"It’s quite surprising. Now that this is done, I can envisage a top ten overall finish as we mentioned before the start of the Vuelta.”
Nicolas Roche leads the 2013 Vuelta (© Unipublic/Graham Watson)
Reflecting on how he managed to grab the race lead, Roche said: "There was an opportunity to attack in the last two kilometres. It was the ideal moment. I was at the front with very strong guys: Ivan Basso, Thibaut Pinot and Daniel Moreno. I wasn’t thinking of winning the stage, I only had the red jersey in mind.
"I’ve never worn a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour before. I was only eight seconds down. It was so little. I had to go for it. I gave everything. It’s mission accomplished. It makes me very happy.
"It would be very optimistic to say that I’m going to defend until Madrid. It’s tight. I hope to get more opportunities like that but for now, I want to enjoy and celebrate with my team.
"It’s been an incredible week for me with my first stage win in a Grand Tour, my first leader’s jersey. Tomorrow it’ll be a different stage for different kind of riders but Monday’s stage is a very difficult one. Shall I wear the red jersey for three days, it would already be a lot."
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.