This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
The Alto del Angliru never fails to turn up a great story or two, and did so once again as the Vuelta a España climbed Spain's most notorious mountain. It was a day for one of the peloton's youngest members and for one of its oldest, as 22-year-old Kenny Elissonde struck another blow for France's young brigade with a sensational solo victory. Soon after the FDJ rider had emerged from the mist to celebrate "an unbelievable victory", 41-year-old Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) appeared from the gloom to seal the greatest victory of his long career, having finally seen off his main rival for the red jersey, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
The Italian attacked four times on the steepest ramps of the Angliru, dropping the veteran American on each occasion. However, Horner fought back each time. Just inside the 2km banner, the RadioShack rider pressed hard as they went around on a vicious hairpin corner and Nibali couldn't respond. Seeing he had the gap he needed, Horner kept on pushing and steadily increased his advantage on the Italian.
As he neared the line, Horner picked off riders who had been in the day's break, but Elissonde hung on courageously to give his team a second summit finish victory in this race following Alexandre Geniez's success at Peyragudes.
"There were some big names in the breakaway, and I didn't have very good legs when I got in the break, it was very difficult," said Elissonde. "The Angliru is a mythical climb, one of the hardest in the world, and this morning I wouldn't have believed I could win here. I was just here to work for Thibaut Pinot, so to win today makes this one of the happiest days of my life. We have a very young team, and there is a very good atmosphere within it. We always are ready to try to do something like this, and it's a dream come true."
Horner raised an arm in celebration as he crossed the line, before sinking to the road after he had been helped off his bike, a broad smile across his face. The bonus seconds he gained on the line for second place behind Elissonde pushed his overall advantage out to 37 seconds over Nibali going into the final day in Madrid. The ltalian was caught by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the final ramps of the Angliru, which ensured that the Spaniard secured the final place on the podium.
"This is a legendary moment. It hasn't taken much time for me to realize what I've achieved because I've been fighting for this for so long. This is great. It is the greatest thing that I've ever achieved. I still can't believe it. Many thanks to everyone," said Horner.
The 41-year-old champion paid full tribute to his rivals, and said, "Nibali was fantastic. I've beaten great champions like Valverde, who has a great palmares. It's absolutely incredible, a legendary moment, that will perhaps never be repeated. I hope all of the fans watching have enjoyed it."
How it unfolded
Nibali's Astana team showed their hand early by getting three riders - Andriy Grivko, Jacob Fuglsang and Paolo Tiralongo - into the break, which was no less than 32-strong. Katusha and Movistar also had men in the move, while RadioShack held back to watch over Horner in the peloton.
Cofidis' King of the Mountains Nicolas Edet led the break over the first of four climbs, the third-category Alto de la Cabruñana, where the main peloton was 4:24 in arrears. With its lead almost up to six minutes, the break began to split on the subsequent second-category climb of the Tenebredo. Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), David Arroyo (Caja Rural), Grivko, Edet and Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) pushed ahead, crossing the summit 6:40 up on the red jersey group, where Movistar began to tap out a more concerted rhythm. Euskaltel and Katusha were also prominent on the front of the bunch heading towards the first-category Cordal climb.
The break had come back together approaching the Cordal, but Tiralongo fired clear once they were on it. A couple of kilometres further up the climb, Elissonde put in a huge effort to join the veteran Italian. The pair crossed the Cordal with 5:28 in hand on the bunch and a decent advantage over the remnants of the break, too. After Elissonde had survived a couple of hairy moments on the descent, the two riders reached the foot of the Angliru with a five-minute lead on the red jersey group, which had slimmed down considerably on the way over the Cordal.
Horner's group swelled again to around 20 riders on the early slopes of the Angliru. With 10km remaining, double stage-winner Dani Moreno went to the front of the line to set a fierce pace for Katusha leader Joaquim Rodríguez, which shook several riders out of this group, including Horner's final two teammates, Robert Kiserlovski and Haimar Zubeldia.
As Tiralongo and Elissonde rode on together, Nibali launched his first attack with 7km to go. Fifth-placed Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) couldn't stay with the pace as Horner led the chase behind the Italian, getting back on terms after 500 metres of hard climbing. After taking a short breather once he'd got back up to Nibali, Horner tried to get clear of the Italian, who closed the American down quickly.
While all this was going on behind, Tiralongo had sat up to wait for his team leader, leaving Elissonde to carry on alone with an advantage of two minutes over the GC favourites. Fuglsang had eased off too, giving Nibali two teammates to set the pace for him. Within a few hundred metres, however, Nibali dropped them and the rest of the group when he made his second attack. As before, Horner responded to it, only to see Nibali accelerate hard once more at the 3km banner, where both the mist and the crowds were extremely thick.
Horner clawed his way back a third time, but on this occasion Rodríguez and Valverde could not stay with him, producing a head-to-head battle between the Vuelta's top two riders. Nibali attacked hard for a fourth time, but again Horner managed to respond.
With Elissonde going through a personal hell but with enough of buffer to all but ensure that he would win the stage, Horner and Nibali began to pick up the last few riders from the break. When Horner led the way past two of them on that super-steep hairpin, he saw his moment. Nibali cracked instantly and, finally, the Vuelta was won, and by the oldest champion in Grand Tour history.