A slight time gap at the finish on stage 4 saw Chris Horner’s red jersey slip away, but not for long. The HC climb of Alto Hazallanas became the proving ground for the 41-year old American who took advantage of his strong legs and the super steep pitch to launch an attack at 4.6km to go. His effort resulted in a solo win and the regaining of the race lead in the 2013 Vuelta a España.
Chris Horner: “Movistar did a good job of making an initial selection and then when Nibali attacked hard he made the selection down to four riders. I saw that Valverde was suffering so I said to myself it was time to go as hard as I could. I thought if I could get a little gap that the others would play with some tactics behind me with none of them really wanting to work too hard. I don’t have quick acceleration, but once I get up to speed I can maintain it. So I knew if I could get a small gap I would be able to keep that speed all the way to the finish.”
With pitches up to 18%, Horner was in his comfort zone on the Alto Hazallanas. Riding in a select GC group, Horner saw his chance at under 5km to go and jumped away from the others to immediately open up a gap. A solid response finally came from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but by then it was too late and Chris Horner won solo with 48-seconds in hand. Behind Nibali for third place was Alejandro Valverde of Movistar at 1:02 on the 186.8km/116mi stage that began in Torredelcampo. Horner leads on the general classification by 43-seconds to Nibali.
Horner continued, referring to the next stage on Wednesday: “I don’t expect to hold the jersey after the time trial – that isn’t my specialty and Nibali is a very good time trialist. I have a little bit of a time cushion now but I’m sure Nibali knew he could give me some time before the time trial and not worry about it. I can stay very close after that until we go to another mountain stage and that will decide this Vuelta. As you can see, every top rider is alone on the last climb, so it’s going to get down to tactics every time.”
Horner, who will celebrate his 42nd birthday next month and turned professional in the mid-1990’s, became the oldest rider in cycling history to win a stage and lead a grand tour with his victory in Monday’s stage 3. Today he doubled up on that statistic, now leading the Vuelta a España by 48-seconds.
Horner: “This was a very difficult climb. It was steep and hard, but so steep that there was no draft at all. So it didn’t matter if you were in a group or solo, the effort required was the same. For me it was better to attack while the others played some tactics behind me. I watched my power meter and stayed at 98% all the way to the line, never at 100%,” he said with a laugh. “Today in the team meeting we talked about the climb. I didn’t think I’d seen it before, but once on it I remembered it from 2006 or 2007. So when we move the race north to the next climbs, it’s possible that I know none of those climbs, but perhaps I’ll know all of them.”
After the rest day will be the 38.8km/24mi individual time trial in Tarazona. Horner: “I don’t know if the time trial course suits me or not but it’s been a few years since I’ve had a good time trial, so I don’t expect to be able to keep the jersey but it is what it is. I’m a small guy, I’m a climber and sometimes I do a good time trial. Maybe that time will come again in two days.”
Horner concluded with: “Fabian Cancellara was fantastic for me. Really the entire team was unbelievable today, they have worked so much for me. I couldn’t be happier. Again I’m the oldest rider to win a stage in a grand tour. I don’t feel real pressure in having the jersey, but once you have it there are many things you have to do after the stage with the press so it takes up more of your time when you want to rest. But with the rest day tomorrow I feel like I can recover fine. If I lose the jersey after the time trial, I will fight again on a mountain stage to get it back.”
A massive crash in the neutral zone at the race start took down many riders including three from RADIOSHACK LEOPARD TREK. Haimar, Robert and Matthew all have road rash and contusions, with Zubeldia injuring his left arm and knee, Kišerlovski a right shoulder injury and Busche with problems to his right shoulder, hip and upper leg. All three will be monitored through the rest day and will hopefully suffer no long-term problems from the crash.