Italy's Vincent Nibali (Liquigas) took over the lead of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday after overall leader Igor Anton (Eukaltel Euskadi) suffered a heart-breaking crash near the base of the final climb on Stage 14.
As the peloton moved on, Nibali, Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) battled for the red jersey on the steep slopes of the Pena Cabarga, with Rodriguez crossing the finish first.
The crash happened as Katusha was pushing the pace to wear out some contenders and catch the breakaway of David Millar (Garmin Transitions) and Niki Terpstra (Milram), whose lead had dwindled to less than 2 minutes. Riding near the front of the cyclists, it appeared that Anton was the first to go down, bringing down teammate Egoi Martinez and some other rides with him.
Martinez, who lay flat on his back, didn't move from the pavement. Anton was up walking around, but with blood pouring from cuts and scrapes and his jersey and shorts in tatters. After five days in the leader's red jersey, Anton abandoned the race.
Up ahead on the 4-mile climb, Mosquera was the first to attack the lead group with 2 miles to go as the slope went up to 12%. As he started to ride away, Nibali attacked and caught Mosquera and continued pedaling into the lead.
Then Rodriguez attacked with less than a mile to go, passing Mosquera and riding onto Nibali's rear wheel. At the steepest part of the climb, surrounded by cycling fans wearing the orange colors of the Euskatel Euskadi team, Rodriguez passed Nibali and pedaled his bike into victory.
Finishing 20 seconds behind, Nibali was able to sustain a 4-second gap over Rodriquez to take the red jersey. Mosquera's final assault paid off by rising to 3rd place overall, 50 seconds behind the leader.
Other cyclists who improved Saturday include Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), who moved into 6th place overall and Tom Danielson (Garmin Transitions), who moved to 8th place.
Earlier in the race, Terpstra was joined by Millar and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) to form a 3-man breakaway that gained more than 12 minutes on the peloton. Zabriskie fell back with about 12 miles left in the race, but Millar and Terpstra survived onto the final climb. Terpstra remained out front until Mosquera attacked near the summit.
Top 10 after Stage 14
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) – 4 seconds
3.Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) – 50 seconds
4. Xavier Tondo (Cervelo) – 50 seconds
5. Nicolas Roche (AG2R) – 2:11
6. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) – 2:12
7. Peter Velits (HTC Columbia) – 2:29
8. Tom Danielson (Garmin Transitions) – 3:29
9. Ruben Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) – 3:41
10. Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) – 3:52