Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) claimed the final stage of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana in a head to head sprint with American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp). The Australian sprinter grabbed his second stage win of the race while Chris Horner (RadioShack) secured the overall title with Vicenzo Nibali second and Alejendro Valverde third.
“I’ve been a professional for almost 20 years so this represents a lifetime of hard work. A Grand Tour is always a goal for a cyclist to show how good a rider you are. The memories will last forever and the riders I came with were amazing and my team has been fantastic," Horner said.
"My family is home watching. My daughters are 16 and 14, and my son is 11 so they are old enough to appreciate this. Many riders winning in their 20’s and early 30’s have small children but mine are at the age where they can appreciate what Dad is doing. When I get back, it will be quite the topic at home.”
After the customary photo calls at the front of the peloton, racing began once the peloton hit the final circuits through the Spanish capital.
Javier Aramendia (Caja Rura)l was the first rider to break the momentary peace in the peloton. The Spaniard launched his move on the finish circuit and was soon joined by Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) with 31km to go. The two-man break established a lead of 40 seconds.
With two laps remaining, the peloton was chasing in earnest, Garmin and Lampre leading the pack at 17 seconds in arrears. Cannondale soon assumed pace duties and even with Aramendia's last ditch efforts, the leading pair were closed down with 5km remaining.
Sky led the peloton with 3km to go with NetApp, Garmin and Orica all fighting for position. A late attack from NetApp threatened to spoil the sprinters’ fun but it was Lampre who brought the move back.
However with so many weary legs, the lead-out trains began to fracture. Sky disappeared from the front, while Orica and Argos positioned their thinned out recruits on the front. Farrar, appearing isolated, was forced to sprint early, and when Matthews responded in kind, the American – still without a contract for next year – was unable to respond.
Horner: America's last man standing
Horner came into the Vuelta on the back of some recent form racing in the US. However, having sustained a knee injury that had kept him out of the Tour de France, few expected him to realistically challenge for the overall. Nibali looked to have refocused in the nick of time, while Rodriguez and Valverde were expected to mount a domestic challenge.
However, it was Horner who landed the first blow, wining on stage 3 to Mirador de Lobeira and reversing a chunk of time he had conceded in the opening team time trial. The briefest of time gaps on the following stage saw Nibali re-take the leader’s jersey and even when Horner distanced Nibali on the Alto Peñas Blancas, the Italian remained the favourite. Surely a 41-year-old with a trick knee couldn’t unsettle Italy’s leading GC rider? And when Horner lost 11 seconds to his main rival on the follow stage it looked as though a week’s racing had levelled the situation and that Horner’s gusto would be blow away in the Spanish Sierra Nevada.
However, ahead of the rest-day Horner struck back, soloing clear to pick up his second stage win and the race lead once more. Come the end of the individual time trial Nibali had wrestled the race lead from the veteran American rider but 33 seconds, and with almost half the race left to cover, meant that time bonuses would continue to play their part. Valverde and Rodriguez hovered like vultures, waiting for the leading pair to make a fatal mistake but it was the hometown heroes who lost precious seconds on a dramatic stage to 14 Collada de la Gallina.
In stage 16 from Graus to Aramón Formigal, Horner began the second phase of his assault on Nibali’s lead. The Italian surprisingly collapsed inside the final 3km of the stage, leaving all of his rivals to claw back vital seconds.
But Aramón Formigal became the blue-print for the remainder of Nibali’s overall challenge. Miraculously, Horner simply wasn’t tiring, and the 41-year-old was a constant threat to Astana’s slender grip on the race. In hindsight the writing was on the wall on stage 18 to Peña Cabarga as Horner danced up the road on the 20 percent ramps of the climb to leave Nibali with little option but to ride at his own pace. Out of the saddle – as he has been for much of this year’s race – Horner was simply unstoppable. By the end of the stage, the rider who had ridden as a domestique for much of his 30s, had reduced Nibali’s lead to three seconds, while Rodriguez and Valverde lacked the punch they’d demonstrated at the Tour and were racing for third.
When Rodriguez rescued his outing with a stage win to Alto del Naranco, Horner assumed the race lead. Nibali once again had looked unsettled and when the American launched himself after Rodriguez, Nibali could only limit his loses.
And so the race headed towards the legendary slopes of the Angliru. Horner's marginal lead could have proved worthless if he had a bad day and even Rodriguez could have hoped for a opportunistic turn around in fortunes. The Angliru has cracked many of the best cyclists in the world and dashed their overall hopes on its back-breaking slopes. And when Nibali slipped clear with just under 8km to go, it looked as though his racing acumen could still deliver an unlikely win. However, while Nibali’s courage and willingness were still in form, his legs were not. Horner dragged himself up to the Italian’s wheel with each acceleration and when Horner began to wind up the pace inside the final 3km, it was clear Nibali had been forced to concede any chance of winning.