American Chris Horner moved to within touching distance of becoming the oldest ever winner of a grand tour as he extended his lead in the Tour of Spain to 37 seconds in Saturday’s penultimate stage.
Frenchman Kenny Elissonde took the 142.2km 20th stage from Aviles to Alto de L’Angliru ahead of Horner in second and Alejandro Valverde in third.
However, the 41-year-old Horner pulled away from Vincenzo Nibali in the final 2km to leave the Italian 28sec behind in fourth and ensure he will cruise to victory in the procession around Madrid in the final stage on Sunday.
“I don’t need any time for it to sink in,” the RadioShack rider told TVE.
“I had a long time to think about what an accomplishment it would be today and how hard it would be, but it will be something that lasts a lifetime.”
Horner had to withstand a series of attacks by Nibali on the 12.2km climb up the Alto de L’Angliru to the finish with gradients of over 20 per cent in places.
Nibali though couldn’t open up a significant gap on Horner and eventually paid the price for his incessant attacks as he was left without the strength to follow Horner in the final couple of kilometres.
“Nibali was amazing,” continued Horner.
“To win here for me is unbelievable with such great champions like Nibali and Valverde.
“I could only hope that Nibali would put in an attack like that at the end to make it so epic for the fans. To see him attack 10 or 15 times, I’m sure the fans must have been on the edge of their seat.
“I think it is an amazing moment, everyone at home got to watch a legendary moment which we may never see again in a guy of my age winning a grand tour.”I hope everyone that watched it enjoyed every pedal stroke and all the suffering I had to the finish line just as much as I did.”
Nibali managed to avoid losing any time on Valverde to guarantee that he will finish second after winning the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.
And Valverde also secured his place on the podium as he finished nearly two minutes ahead of compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez.
“I tried to attack whenever it was possible,” Nibali said afterwards.
“I am happy with the tour that I have had and we need to bear in mind that Horner has been a solid and strong leader.
“We had tactics for today but they didn’t develop as we hoped, everyone was waiting on every move that we made.”
With all the excitement in the general classification, Elissonde’s first stage victory in a grand tour was somewhat overshadowed.
However, the 22-year-old was delighted to claim victory in such a famous setting.
“It was very difficult but it is unbelievable that I have won,” he said.
“It is one of the toughest climbs in the world so to win today is one of the happiest days of my life.”