|Horner puts the hurt on Nibbles and Purito as the road turns skyward. Photo credit: Graham Watson|
3 seconds. That is all that separates Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner who currently occupy first and second place in this years Vuelta á España. After 18 stages this years race is a virtual dead heat, and with 2 brutal mountain top finishes to go some might say that Horner with his fresher legs is actually the one whose race it is to lose. On today's stage Nibali continued his recent streak of dropping watts and faltering on the tough uphill finishes, and the wily veteran Horner continued his streak of doing the exact opposite. The American pulled away on the last 1km and it looked very likely that he would end the day in red. Nibali was able to muster up just enough to keep the lead by that trio of seconds and now we get to watch the fireworks unfold on the next two stages.
Fridays stage 19 starts in the picturesque municipality of San Vicente de la Barquera and works it's way over three cat 3 and one cat 2 climbs before ending up on the outskirts of Oviedo and up the often used (at least up until the mid 90's) Alto del Naranco, where the famous statue of Christ waits for the winner with arms outstretched. The locals will no doubt be rooting for hometown boy Samuel Sanchez to make a show of the climbs first return to the Vuelta since 1997. While he has shown some decent legs in the high mountain stages I don't reckon he can pull it off. It would be a nice story and I can't help but root for him, but the real story is going to be the battle between the current Giro champ and the the good 'ol boy from Bend for the top step of the podium.
It's should be a burner, and I hope it lives up to all of it's potential. Racing starts early, don't sleep on these next two stages, you can find a link to watch at Steephill.tv