Vuelta a Espaņa - Nibali comes of age as Mosquera takes stage
Eurosport - Sat, 18 Sep 16:31:00 2010
The Italian showed his class after being dropped on the final ascent of the day – but managed to claw his way back and finish stage 20 right on the wheel of his Spanish rival.
Aged 25 and riding his very first Vuelta a Espana, Liquigas leader Nibali will become - barring any unforeseen catastrophe - the first Italian in 20 years to win the prestigious three-week stage race in Madrid on Sunday.
Despite not winning a single stage in this year's race, the Sicilian takes a 41-second lead over Xacobeo-Galicia's Mosquera into the Spanish capital for the final processional stage, with Slovakian Peter Velits of HTC-Columbia making up the podium at 3:02.
"It's been very close all the way through this race but that makes winning it all the more special," Nibali told reporters. "I can hardly believe I've managed to do it. I didn't know the final part of the climb which was very difficult. But I rode at my own pace rather than risk burning myself out."
Saturday's 172-km stage from San Martin de Valdeiglesias culminated with the Vuelta's first ever precipitous ascent to the ski resort of Bola del Mundo in the Navacerrada mountains north of Madrid.
With Nibali entering the day with a slender 50-second advantage over Mosquera, everything was still in the balance.
On one side there was the 34-year-old veteran Mosquera, a rider yet to win a stage in a Grand Tour let alone make a final podium; on the other side was Nibali, third in this year's Giro d'Italia, one of the most talented riders of his generation and on the cusp of winning the Vuelta at his first attempt.
With Mosquera the better out-and-out climber of the pair the onus was on the old hand to put the young tyro under as much pressure as he could. "I have only one tactic: attack, attack and attack," Mosquera, rumoured to be joining Dutch outfit Vacansoleil next season, told reporters before the decisive stage.
And with three kilometres left to ride he did just that. As the route took the riders off the tarmac and onto a tricky road surface of narrow concrete slabs with a hellish gradient of 20 percent, Mosquera made his move.
An earlier breakaway of 19 riders, which formed before the first of three earlier climbs, had by now been swept up, leaving just a select group of the peloton's finest leading the field.
None of them – not even Nibali – could react to Mosquera's brutal surge of pace on the final steep ramp towards the finish line.
But amid a heaving sea of fanatic supporters Nibali dug deep and held his nerve, clawing back the deficit with a combination of tenacious riding and all-out dancing-in-the-saddle.
Mosquera's gap of 18 seconds dropped bit by bit and as the Spaniard looked over his shoulder when passing under the one-kilometre-to-go banner, he would have seen the red jersey of Nibali fast approaching through the mist.
It was a valiant effort by Mosquera – and a sign of his character that he could still muster the strength to take on Nibali in the sprint for the stage victory.
"When I attacked I wanted to win the Tour of Spain overall, not just the stage," Mosquera said after sealing the biggest win of his career. "I had nothing to lose and I went all out. But Nibali knew what he was doing and he rode well. All I can do now is congratulate him."
Like Alberto Contador two months earlier in the Tour de France, Nibali will become one of the select few to win a Grand Tour without winning a stage along the way. His forthcoming triumph will be Liquigas's second Grand Tour victory of the season after compatriot Ivan Basso's exploits in May's Giro.
"It's a huge step up for me to take this race, it means I'm a top rider now," Nibali said. "I knew nothing about the Tour of Spain before I came here, I had more and more enemies as the race progressed but I was able to win all the same."
Spain's Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), who wore the red jersey on two occasions earlier in the race, took third place in the stage at 0:23 while Luxembourg's Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) was fourth at 0:35
Velits, surprise winner of Thursday's individual time trial, could only manage eighth place at 0:52 but it was enough for the Slovakian to hold on to his place on the podium.
Ireland's Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) finished the day in sixth place, at 0:42, to cement his impressive seventh place in the GC.
France's David Moncoutie (Cofidis) picked up some extra mountain points over the summit of the first climb of the day to secure a third successive king of the mountains title in the race.
The Vuelta officially ends on Sunday with an 85-km showpiece stage from San Sebastian de los Reyes to Madrid in which Britain's Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) will be favourite to win his fourth sprint victory of the race and seal the green jersey in the points competition.
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