Just four stages remain in the Vuelta a Espana 2013.
Vincenzo Nibali, the race’s long-time leader, continues to set the pace in a competition that is pushing participants to the limit. He finished 14th in Stage 17, but this does very little to confirm the expectant winner's overall victory.
Can he be caught? Starting with Nibali, let's take a look at the racers to watch across the remaining stages.
Sometimes in cycling, it’s possible to lead a race for too long. Nibali has continued to post excellent times throughout the Spanish competition, but the Italian’s recent form suggests he could be caught as we head toward the race’s conclusion.
As Alisdair Fotheringham of Cycling News writes, the fastest man is also looking the most tired:
Looking weary as he answered questions from Spanish TV, Nibali admitted that the duties involved when leading a race for so long were beginning to take its toll. He first took the jersey on stage 2, lost it on stage 3, regained it on stage 4 for a further four days and then returned to the top spot again on stage 11.
On top of that, Nibali complained about the lengthy transfers, although that is the same for all of the riders in the 2013 Vuelta.
This is a rider who continues to battle huge expectations. Anything but victory will be deemed a complete failure for Nibali at this point, ensuring the pressure continues to mount as Stage 18 looms. He was off the pace in Stage 17, but thankfully, Nibali's closest competitors couldn't take advantage.
Nibali will not receive any help from those trying to catch his tail, as summarised in the one-by-one assault on his position at the Sallent de Gallego-Formigal climb in Stage 16. His rivals are sensing blood and will work together to see Nibali trickle down the rankings. This is extremely dangerous for the 28-year-old who has it all to lose.
Try to tell Chris Horner that he is too old to compete at the Vuelta a Espana, I dare you. The 41-year-old continues to defy logic and expectation by pushing a much younger leader all the way across Spain. Ever wondered why Nibali is feeling fatigued? Horner is your answer.
Will the veteran’s superhuman effort result in a stunning victory? He was unable to mount significant pressure on Nibali during Stage 17, but there's a real chance Horner can push the Italian beyond his limits. Horner finished 17th in the last stage and remains 28 seconds behind the front-runner.
Having led the overall charge after Stage 3 and continuing to tussle with Nibali for first place throughout the competition, the impressive American needs one last push before he can congratulate himself on a terrific effort.
Edvald Boasson Hagen
He may be struggling back in 78th place in the overall rankings, but Edvald Boasson Hagen continues to fight for his first La Vuelta stage win.
The 26-year-old Norwegian came so close to achieving this feat in Stage 17. Winds on one of the race's flatter routes caused havoc with the final sprint across the finish line in Burgos, with Dutchman Bauke Mollema taking his chance to notch a surprise victory.
This is the second time Boasson Hagen has come second during the tour. He isn't a challenger for the title, but like Warren Barguil and many others sitting further back, his personal battle continues to intrigue with extreme drama.
The rider is an excellent example of the Spanish race's ability to throw up interesting storylines, even though victory will only be decided between a handful of riders.