This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
The relentless pressure that Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) has been piling on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finally saw the veteran American take the Vuelta leader's red jersey on the Alto del Naranco.
Having gone into the stage with a three-second deficit on the Italian, Horner attacked in sight of the finish and came out of it three seconds ahead of Nibali. With one final summit finish on the fearsome Angliru to come on Saturday, 41-year-old Horner has momentum on his side and is the favourite to take overall victory.
The stage was marked by a breakaway but Joaquim Rodriguez's Katusha team did much of the chasing and he paid them back with a powerful attack in the final kilometre and a solo victory.
He was followed in by Diego Ullisi (Lampre-Merida), Dani Moreno (Katusha) and local icon Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), with Horner 14 seconds down in fifth place. Crucially, though, the American was half a dozen seconds clear of Nibali, enough to the overall lead.
While Nibali rode off to his team bus, no longer needed for the podium ceremony, Horner had a huge smile on his face after pulling on the red leader's jersey.
“It’s fantastic to put the red jersey on again, although I wasn’t expecting it until tomorrow. This is a big surprise,” said the RadioShack rider.
“I feel like I’m in good shape and I expect to win this Vuelta. I’ve never climbed the Angliru before but I will look at the climb on the television tonight and we will see how things go. I feel better on the steeper climbs and I hope to be able to keep the jersey. Obviously I prefer the heat too, and if it rains I will try to do the best I can.”
Rodriguez was also celebrating. He is just the second Spanish stage winner in this year's Vuelta.
“I have the stage win, now I will try to get onto the podium,” said Rodríguez, who becomes only the second Spanish stage winner in this race after his Katusha teammate Dani Moreno. “It’s the Angliru, it’s a special climb. Tomorrow everything can change,” he said looking ahead.
Katusha control the racing to set up Rodriguez
The importance of the bonus seconds in the fight between Horner and Nibali and Rodriguez's desire to win a stage meant that the riders who got into the break of the day didn’t gain anything like enough time to stay clear to the finish.
Tam Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen and Argos-Shimano's Georg Preidler were part of a big move that also included David Tanner (Belkin), Francis De Greef (Lotto Belisol), Rafa Valls (Vacansoleil), Dominik Nerz, Ivan Santaromita, Danilo Wyss (all BMC), Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), Paul Voss (NetApp), Nicolas Edet, Nico Sijmens (both Cofidis), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel), Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida), Christian Meier, Leigh Howard (both Orica-GreenEdge), David Arroyo (Caja Rural), Xabier Zandio (Team Sky), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Daniele Ratto (Cannondale).
Their maximum advantage over the peloton was only three minutes. Boasson Hagen and Preidler struck out in an attempt to stretch that, but never extended their lead much further as Katusha worked hard to set up 'Purito' Rodriguez.
The race came back together late on, with been Boasson Hagen and Preidler reeled in on the approach to Oviedo, which lies at the foot of the Naranco. There was a flurry of attacks but they were quickly neutralised by Nicolas Roche's Saxo-Tinkoff teammates.
Halfway up the final climb, Roche made the first move from the red jersey group, hitting out for the stage win. But the Irishman could not get clear of the rampaging Rodriguez, who passed him and then sailed away in the final kilometre to claim victory and edge himself a few seconds closer to the race leader.
The Vuelta now heads towards the finale that race director Javier Guillén and his organising team will have been dreaming about.
It was widely suggested that the large number of summit finishes could result in a dull race dominated by one or two riders. Instead, this Vuelta has ebbed and flowed and still hangs in the balance as the riders look ahead towards a finish on Spain’s most notorious mountain.
Horner may now be the favourite to win overall, but when he studies the Angliru on TV or video tonight he may well see what happened to the last rider who rode up the climb in red jersey. Bradley Wiggins lost 1-21 and his overall hopes to stage winner José Cobo.
Horner may have the form to hold off his rivals, but Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and perhaps even Rodríguez are still within striking range.