Ratto Climbs to Victory in Stage 15 of Vuelta; Nibali Keeps Red Jersey
On a day that saw his team captain bow out of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana because of hypothermia, Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) salvaged the race for his team. The Italian was the sole survivor of a daylong break in the cold and rain, winning Stage 14, a mountainous, 155.7-km ride from Baga, Spain to Collada de la Gallina, Andorra in 4:24:00. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished second at 3:53, and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) took third at 3:55. Nibali has tightened his grip on the red jersey.
Cold and rain greeted the racers. In the opening km, a 12-man break formed that included world road race champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Steve Chainel (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Ratto, and Luis Leon Sanchez and Graeme Brown (both from Belkin). Astana did not chase, and the escapees’ lead was 8:18 at the base of the special category Port de Envalira, which took the Vuelta out of Spain and into Andorra. On the ascent, Chainel and Brown were dropped, and the break’s advantage grew to more than 11 minutes.
Behind, Katusha led the peloton. The Russian team’s pacemaking reduced the peloton to 40 riders. On the descent, the cold (5 degrees Centigrade) and rain caused havoc, with riders crashing and being dropped because of hypothermia. Sanchez crashed and abandoned, and Ratto jumped ahead of Gilbert. Basso, who began the day in seventh place overall, became the first big name to be dropped.
On the Category 2 Coll de Ordino, Ratto still led Gilbert. The peloton split into multiple groups. At the summit of the following climb, the second category Coll de Ordino, Ratto led the red jersey group by 8:17. Jose Herrada (Movistar); David Arroyo and Amets Txurruka (both from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA); Igor Anton, Egoi Martinez, and Pablo Urtasun (all from Euskaltel-Euskadi); Thibaut Pinot (Francaise des Jeux); Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp); and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked out of the group, but they were reeled in quickly.
With 20 km left, Ratto led Gilbert by 2:00, the chase group by 8:05, and the red jersey group by 8:40. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was dropped on the descent of the Ordino.
On the descent of the second category Alto de la Comella, the wet road nearly caused Ratto to slide off of the course. Behind, Basso abandoned, and Valverde continued to struggle. At the base of the Category 1 ascent to the finish, the Movistar man was 0:40 behind the red jersey group.
The cold, the rain, and the pace demolished the red jersey group. Nicolas Roche (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) was dropped and would finish 20 th at 7:22, plummeting from third to sixth overall. With four km left, only Nibali, Horner, and Robert Kiserlovski (RadioShack-Leopard) remained.
Nibali and Horner jumped clear of the Croatian. Horner did most of the pacemaking, and the pair overtook Gilbert. Ahead, Ratto was exhausted, but the Cannondale rider persevered and stayed clear, pumping his fists as he crossed the finish line. Nibali outsprinted Horner to the finish to take a two-second bonus, while the American grabbed four seconds for third.
Aside from Gatto, Valverde probably had the most epic ride on an epic stage. He was dropped on the descent of the Ordino because of the cold, but the Spaniard battled back on the day’s final climb to finish sixth, only 0:50 behind Nibali. The Movistar man said, “It was a really hard day for me, horrible, cruel; for me, it was the hardest day ever on a bike. Not only due to the hard parcours, but also because of the conditions, which made things much, much harder. I was feeling so