COLLADA DE LA GALLINA, Andorra -- Daniele Ratto of Italy withstood cold and rain in the Pyrenees to win a grueling 14th stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, while Vincenzo Nibali withstood his rivals' attacks to protect his overall lead.
Ratto, a Cannondale rider, broke away from the group and had time to savor his hard-earned victory as he made his final push to the summit finish of the 97-mile route that started in Baga and finished in the principality of Andorra.
"It's strange me being a sprinter winning a stage in the high mountains," said Ratto, who added he was accustomed to the bad weather because he lives in the mountains.
"The downhill stretch with rain helped me. I went for it and it worked out well," he said.
Behind Ratto, Nibali stayed on the wheel of Christopher Horner on the last category-one climb and increased his lead over rivals Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.
The cold and rain forced veteran Ivan Basso and Luis Leon to abandon the race with signs of hypothermia.
"This is a big step forward," Nibali said. "It was been a very tough day. The temperature dropped a lot, above all it was very cold going down from the Envalira summit. I have to thank my entire (Astana) team because each rider from the first to the last helped me."
Ratto finished the stage that featured a special-category climb to the Envalira peak midway through in 4 hours, 24 minutes.
Nibali crossed second 3 minutes, 53 seconds later with Horner 2 seconds behind.
Nibali is aiming to win the Vuelta for a second time. The Italian has a 50-second lead over Horner, who moved into second place.
Valverde is third, 1:42 back, with Rodriguez 2:57 off Nibali's pace in fourth.
"It was a really hard day for me, horrible, cruel for me, it was the hardest day ever on a bike," Valverde said. "I was feeling so cold into the descents, trembling, unable to pedal. I almost crashed. At the last climb I recovered well, warmed up, got on a nice pace and started overtaking riders. That's why I'm happy with the result."
The grand tour stays in the mountains for the next two days, including a 140-mile route from Andorra to Peyragudes in France on Sunday.
The race ends in Madrid on Sept. 15.