Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali was on course to win the Tour of Spain after staging a courageous counter-attack against Spain’s Ezequiel Mosquera in the penultimate stage here on Saturday.
The Spaniard won the grueling and decisive mountainous stage by just one second ahead of Nibali, of Liquigas, who now has a comfortable 41-second lead over the Xacobeo rider going into Sunday’s finale in Madrid. And the 25-year-old Nibali, who was third in the Giro d’Italia this year, now appears set to claim one of cycling’s three Grand Tours for the first time.
Ahead of this year’s Tour of Spain, many had predicted the event would be won or lost in the 20th stage, a 172.1-kilometre ride from San Martin de Valdeiglesias to atop the 2,247-metre Bola del Mundo in the Guadarrama mountain range northwest of Madrid. And so it proved.
In one of the most exciting stage finishes of this year’s event, Mosquera pulled away in the steep climb of the final kilometres. The 34-year-old Spaniard, who is known as the better climber, built up a lead of 20 seconds over Nibali. But the Italian was ready for him, and responded with a gritty assault of his own. Third was Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, 23 seconds behind Mosquera.
Nibali was exultant at the prospect of clinching the Tour on Sunday. “When you win (a Grand Tour) it’s an honour, especially against a rival like Mosquera who deserved to win,” said Nibali. “It’s an important victory. I will join the group of ‘great riders’ and it’s something I had dreamed of since I was very young,” he said. “I knew that the last three kilometres would be the hardest, and they were crucial, that I should always be close to Mosquera. I tried to control (the race) as much as possible, and when I saw that I was catching him up I thought everything was possible.”
Mosquera was tearful over his failure to put enough distance between him and Nibali. “I attacked to win the Tour not the stage, but Nibali was very strong, he showed that he knew how to manage the situation,” he said. “I pushed myself to the limit thinking that I could win the stage, dreaming of winning the Tour, when I saw that (Nibali) had caught up I thought it was all lost… But I’m proud of being behind a great champion like Vincenzo Nibali.”
On Sunday, the riders cover a short and flat 81-kilometre route from the Madrid suburb of San Sebastian de los Reyes to end the Tour on the Spanish capital’s main avenue, the Paseo de la Castellana.