Stage 17 of the 2010 Vuelta a España proved that individual time trials are not always boring.
For starters, a surprising HTC-Columbia’s Peter Velits blew world champion Fabian Cancellara and Rabobank’s Denis Menchov right out of the water on the flat 46km course through the wine country around Peñafiel.
And Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) seized the overall lead from Joaquim Rodriquez (Team Katusha) despite flatting early on and getting a sluggish wheel change to boot. The Sicilian quickly recovered his composure and rhythm and went on to finish more than four minutes faster than the erstwhile race leader, who had started the stage with a 33-second advantage over his rival for the overall.
The defeat pushed Rodriguez straight off the podium and into fifth place with just four stages remaining — among them the leg-breaking 172.1km slog to Bola del Mundo on Saturday.
Cancellara takes the hot seat
The day began with temperatures around 27C (81 Fahrenheit) and a light wind that seemed to stiffen a bit for the later starters.
Cancellara started 14th and set the benchmark time of 53 minutes and 20 seconds. The best of the rest for quite a while was Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto), who started 34th and finished 30 seconds off Cancellara’s time.
And then came Menchov, starting 121st. He was only eighth best at the 15km checkpoint, and fifth at 31km. But he was an astounding 25 seconds faster than Cancellara at the finish.
And the surprises weren’t over yet. Starter No. 157 — Velits, a former junior and U-23 national time trial champ in his native Slovakia — bumped Menchov into second place and Cancellara into third with a blistering 52:40, 12 seconds better than Rabobank’s rushin’ Russian and 37 faster than Saxo Bank’s world champ.
Nibali hits a bump in the road to red
Nibali had a fright early on, puncturing his front wheel and skittering across the road to a stop on the right shoulder. There was some scrambling and confusion among the Liguigas staff piling out of the follow car — do we give him a wheel or a bike? — and Nibali eventually took a wheel. But the mishap may have cost him as much as 20 seconds.
“I had a strong start of the time trial today, then I punctured when I had a 25-second advantage,” said Nibali. “I had a slight moment of panic. I wanted to change the bike, but the mechanic said, no, because it was the front wheel. I lost some time there, but I think I recovered pretty well.”
Indeed he did. Nibali was the leader on the road before he ever hit the second checkpoint and race leader Rodriguez found himself struggling to keep a place on the podium.
He would not succeed. Nibali finished in 54:38 to take the red jersey with a 39-second margin over Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) with Velits vaulting from sixth overall into third at 2:00. Rodriguez, meanwhile, crossed 6:12 down on Velits to slip to fifth overall at 3:45.
“I don’t know what to say,” Velits told Spanish TV afterward. “I’m so happy. I felt so good on the bike. Everything went my way. Now I have third place and we will fight to try to keep the podium. I had a bad day the other day at Cotobello, but hopefully I will be able to climb at Bola del Mundo the way I was climbing for the rest of this Vuelta.”
As for Nibali, he has turned his focus from Rodriquez to Mosquera.
“Mosquera is now the No. 1 rival,” said Nibali. “I will count on my teammates to protect me. We hope to control the stage like we did on Covadonga.”
And Rodriguez? He was sanguine about the outcome and still hopes to find a spot on the final podium.
“I knew when I went out on the course today it was going to be a hard day. I thought I would lose three or four minutes, so to lose six minutes was more than I thought,” he said. “Maybe the victory now is complicated, but I can still fight for the podium. Bola del Mundo is so hard. Who knows what will happen?”
- American Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) had a solid time trial, crossing 14th at 1:53. He now sits seventh overall at 3:55.
- 1. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, 46km in 52:43
- 2. Denis Menchov, Rabobank Cycling Team, at 0:12
- 3. Fabian Cancellara, Team Saxo Bank, at 0:37
- 4. Gustav Larsson, Team Saxo Bank, at 0:50
- 5. Luis León Sánchez, Caisse D’Epargne, at 1:03
- 1. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo, at 71:19:49
- 2. Ezequiel Mosquera, Xacobeo Galicia, at 0:39
- 3. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 2:00
- 4. Frank Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, at 3:44
- 5. Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 3:45