Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) climbed alone to victory in stage 15 of the Vuelta a España on Sunday.
The 224.9km leg from Andorra to Peyragudes saw Geniez go clear and ride alone onto the Peyresourde, a climb that linked up with the Peyragudes after a short, fast descent.
With 11km to go Geniez was all alone and the GC riders were testing each other some five minutes behind.
On the Peyresourde Robert Kiserlovsky (RadioShack-Leopard) came forward and began cranking out the watts for Chris Horner. His pace helped trim the group to some eight riders — including race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) — as up ahead Geniez hit a blazing 90 km/h on the final descent before tackling the Peyragudes.
Behind, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) punched it out of the GC group as it hit the foot of the Peyresourde.
But Geniez would not be retrieved, by Sanchez or anyone else. He took a well-deserved solo win, the only guy in the photo, atop the Peyragudes. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) crossed second at 3:03 with a resurgent Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) third at 3:07.
“It was a good day. It was a good group. We all worked together to maintain the gap,” said Geniez. “I went at my own rhythm on the (second-to-last) climb and I managed to open an advantage.
“It’s such a long stage. You never know what can happen. Three days ago, I was so empty, I didn’t think I could continue. I was a bit lucky, but I was very motivated to be in the breakaway, especially here in France.”
The GC group was down to five, meanwhile — the top five riders on the overall, as it turned out — with Horner on point.
But it was the race leader who pulled them across the line, three and a half minutes behind the stage winner. Nibali finished fourth at 3:20, followed by Horner, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale).
“We were strong in the group,” said Horner. “Valverde and Rodríguez were attacking pretty strong. Kiserlovski did a big effort to see if we could break apart the group. The others were super-strong, we had five-six guys who were on top form. We all watched each other to the line. Nibali and I both did a lot of work.
“I remember the climb from the last Tour; it’s not so difficult. I wanted to go fast, to put Valverde and Rodriguez under some pressure so they couldn’t put in a big acceleration. Nibali was thinking the same, we made the pace really hard, and you take away the freshness in the legs, and they cannot jump you over the top.”
Nibali continues to lead the Vuelta by 50 seconds over Horner, with Valverde third at 1:42.
Will the GC group stick together again on Monday’s 146.8km stage from Graus to the Formigal ski resort? “It’s always a possibility,” said Horner. “We have to wait to see if one of the riders have a bad moment. Right now, we’re all really strong. “It’s going to be difficult to make another selection. We have to wait to see if someone has a crisis.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Spain.