RadioShack Leopard Trek’s Chris Horner of the US claimed his first Grand Tour victory in the third stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Monday and took the overall lead in the process.
The 41-year-old produced an impressive kick in the 4km climb to the finish line to edge out 2009 champion Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who finished third in this year’s Tour de France.
Overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali of the Astana Pro Team 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 Tour of the Basque Country and I think I can win the Tour of Spain.”
It was another solid day for Valverde and Rodriguez as they continued to make up the time they lost in the team time trail 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 was lying sixth in the general classification, 24 seconds behind Horner.
Meanwhile, Sky Pro Cycling leader Sergio Henao endured another frustrating day as he now trails the leaders by more than 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 category 1 climb up the Alto do Monte da Groba.
His luck did not improve on Monday as he first suffered a puncture and then was involved in a minor crash.
A second crash involving one of the pre-stage favorites, Simon Gerrans of 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 of BMC Racing who launched a surprise attack.
However, Santaromita went too early and was easily reeled in by the chasing pack as Horner impressively held off Valderde, Rodriguez and Henao’s teammate, Rigoberto Uran, to take the victory.