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Nibali stretches lead after brutal stage 14 of Vuelta

Madrid, Sep 8 (IANS) The 14th stage of the Vuelta de Espana (Tour of Spain) cycle race blew the overall classification wide open with Vicenzo Nilbali and Chris Horner opening a significant advantage over Spain' s Alejandro Valverde.

The 155 kilometres between Baga and Andorra Saturday was the first stage to take place in the high mountains of the Pyrenees and not only did the riders have to contend with a first category climb, they also had to race under heavy downpour, reports Xinhua.

So bad were conditions on the descent of the second category Col de Comella, that one of the race favourites, Ivan Basso was forced to abandon after suffering hypothermia.

While the stage was won by Italian rider, Daneile Rato, who won by after a brave solo ride, which saw him finish just under four minutes ahead.

Third place, Valverde struggled and found himself cut off on the penultimate climb and was forced to try and recover over 30 seconds on the final climb into Andorra. The Spaniard, who began the day third in the overall standings looked was able to overtake second place Nicolas Roche, as he dropped to over four minutes behind the leader.

However, the effort naturally took its toll and with slightly over two kilometres remaining, race leader, Vicenzo Nibali and Chris Horner, who had begun on the same time as Valverde launched an attack.

Nibali finished second, three seconds ahead of Horner and 48 ahead of Valverde, who can probably be grateful he was able to limit his losses. Meanwhile Joaquin Rodriguez also rode himself back into contention for the overall classification with another good climb.

Rodriguez is now up to fourth, just under three minutes behind Nibali, while Valverde is one minute 41 seconds behind and Horner is second 50 seconds off the lead.

The riders have no time to rest, given that Sunday's stage 15 looks even harder with four first category climbs and another mountain top finish over 224 kilometres between Andorra and Peyraguedes.