Vuelta a Espana 2013: Breaking Down Chris Horner's Historic Tour

Aidan Reynolds@@aidanreynoldsContributor IIISeptember 15, 2013

Chris Horner (right) has been remarkable across this year's Vuelta.
Chris Horner (right) has been remarkable across this year's Vuelta.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

By holding off the challenge of Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde, 41-year-old Chris Horner virtually assured himself of overall victory in the 2013 Vuelta a Espana. 

Across the previous 20 stages, Horner has steadily improved, seemingly immune to exhaustion and never shying away from a battle to the finish. It's been a remarkable ride that has defied odds, expectation and belief along the way.

A few moments have been particularly crucial to the American's Tour and are worth a second look as the contest draws to a close.


Stage 3 Win Establishes Credentials

While Horner is a respected rider across the world, few were prepared for him to attack the Mirador de Lobeira and wrestle control of the red jersey away from Nibali.

In doing so, Horner became the oldest man ever to win a stage on a Grand Tour. Suddenly, he was being taken seriously again. He had already overcome a knee injury to feature in the day's action, but with around two kilometres to go, he made a break from the peloton and clung on for victory.

This ride was all about patience. Juan Antonio Flecha and Ivan Santaromita had already made separate attempts to take control of the race but the timing was wrong. Both riders were caught by the chasing pack and neither finished in the top 20 riders at the end of the stage. 

Horner timed his break impeccably, holding off Nibali by just three seconds at the line. It wouldn't be the last time three seconds would divide the pair.


Horner Defies Critics Again Atop Alto Hazallanas

Stage 10 proved that Horner wasn't going to go away. Even after securing victory in Stage 3, doubters questioned Horner's ability to dominate when the mountain stages truly began. He silenced them in fine style by breaking away on a climb that frequently featured a 15 percent gradient and won the stage by a margin of 48 seconds. 

Nibali was part of the chasing group that day, but even he could only shave a couple of seconds off Horner's lead. Nibali misjudged his pursuit and doubtlessly left it too late to catch the American, but the speed in which Horner opened up his lead was phenomenal.

It was a crushing performance from Horner and he would be assured of credibility for the rest of the Tour.


A Strategy Perfectly Planned

Following that dramatic Stage 10 victory, Horner kept himself in contention with a series of consistent performances. He didn't stamp his authority in the same way as before, but regular second-, third- and fourth-place finishes ensured that he sat just three seconds behind Nibali as the Tour approached its most crucial climb.

Those with a small interest in the Tour will know that Alto de L'Angliru must be conquered before any rider can start to think about victory. Nibali's lead was slight, and Horner the better climber. Those counting out Nibali were also counting in Valverde, just a minute and six seconds off the pace.

The feeling persisted that Horner, although he had a lead, could be undone by Valverde. The Spaniard had the experience, while Horner was attempting the mountain for the first time. The course was covered in a blanket of fog, making for a treacherous ascent.

Not only did Horner beat Nibali, but he also beat Valverde. It wasn't by much, but that didn't matter. On his first climb up the Angliru, Horner had finished the stage in fourth place. Crucially, he had also chased down Nibali's three-second lead and finished with a three-second lead of his own. 

It was a lead he would only open up as the Tour approached its final day.