MADRID (AFP) — American Chris Horner claimed his first grand tour stage victory in the third stage of the Vuelta a España on Monday and took the overall lead in the process. Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) produced an impressive kick on the four-kilometer climb to the
finish line to edge out 2009 champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez, who finished third in this year’s Tour de France.
Overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished 11th, the Giro d’Italia champion dropping to second overall, just six seconds behind Horner.
“I arrived in great form, I like the route of this tour and I feel strong,” Horner said after being presented with the leader’s red jersey. “My objective is to be as high as possible in the general classification. I have already won the Vuelta al País Vasco and I think I can win the Tour of Spain.”
The victory made Horner, 41, the oldest rider to win a grand tour stage and the most senior to wear a grand tour leader’s jersey.
It was another solid day for Valverde and Rodríguez as they continued to make up the time they lost in the team time trial on the opening day, with six and four bonus seconds, respectively, for their places on the podium.
“I feel good and you can see that based on what I am showing in the race. It was a shame that we didn’t quite manage the victory again today, but it is a positive to pick up bonuses,” said Valverde who currently lies sixth in the overall classification, 24 seconds behind Horner.
Rodríguez said he thought he could catch Horner, but tipped his hat to the veteran after falling short.
“When I attacked I thought I could catch Horner,” he said in a press release. “But to tell the truth, he did a great job in the last kilometer. I did my best anyways, in order to take the second position, because the time bonuses can make the difference, but Valverde was faster than me. Anyways, I’m very satisfied of my shape, considering it’s been one month since I haven’t taken part to a race, from the end of Tour de France.”
Meanwhile, Sky leader Sergio Henao endured another frustrating day and now trails the leaders by over three minutes. Team director for the race Nicolas Portal said earlier in the day that the Colombian had amazingly forgotten to eat during the second stage on Sunday,
leaving him drained as he was dropped from the peloton on the demanding Cat. 1 climb up the Alto do Monte da Groba. His luck didn’t improve on Monday as he first suffered a puncture and was then involved in a minor crash.
A second crash involving one of the pre-stage favorites, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), then split the peloton into two groups with Movistar, Astana, and Katusha pushing the pace in the leading pack.
However, as they reached the final climb up the Mirador de Lobeira, it was Italian Ivan Santaromita (BMC Racing) who launched a surprise attack. Santaromita went too early, though, and was easily reeled in by the chasing pack as Horner impressively held off Valderde, Rodríguez, and Henao’s teammate, Rigoberto Urán, to take victory.
The race resumes Tuesday with the 189km fourth stage from Lalín/a Estrada to Finisterra, which finishes atop a steep ramp.