Anton delights Basque crowd
Cobo cements race lead
Last Updated: 10/09/11 12:06pm
Anton: Saved the blushes of his Spanish squad with a timely victory in Bilbao
Igor Anton rode to a popular victory on stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana as the race made its long-awaited return to the Basque Country.
The Spaniard took a convincing win for the local Euskaltel-Euskadi squad after attacking his breakaway counterparts on the final climb to set up a solo run into Bilbao.
Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) was forced to settle for second on the day, 41 seconds back after failing to close down Anton on the run to the finish while Dominik Nerz (Liquigas) edged third from a chasing group.
The final climb also saw a fight for the overall victory play out as Chris Froome (Team Sky) attempted a brave attack towards the summit of the second category Alto El Vivero.
The Brit put in an impressive surge on the steep ramps but was unable to shake the attentions of race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox) as the two riders broke clear.
With a flat 14-kilometre run back to the finish it proved impossible for Froome to open out a gap over his rival meaning Cobo still holds a 13-second lead at the top of the standings with two stages remaining.
Team Sky did their best to keep the pace high and pile pressure onto the red jersey-holder in the closing kilometres in front of a passionate Basque crowd as the race returned to the region for the first time since 1978.
Froome’s squad hit the front on the approach to the first of two ascents of the Vivero, Ian Stannard putting in a big turn before allowing Thomas Löfkvist to set the tempo over the climb.
The effort saw the gap to the day’s breakaway quartet fall rapidly after Bruseghin (Movistar), Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana), Anton and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) had worked together well to amass an advantage of six minutes.
Löfkvist continued his heroic turn on the front to lead the field onto the finishing circuit with Bradley Wiggins and Froome and close attendance as thick crowds lined the roadside.
The escapees held a gap of 1:46 at the finish area in Bilbao where the damage done by the effort became apparent as a much-depleted peloton crossed the line.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was the first to attack as the group hit the foot of the climb for the final time while up ahead the break fractured completely with Anton going it alone up the steep ramps.
Wiggins then took up the reins at the front to set up Froome but with the terrain making it tough to make an attack stick things came back together allowing the British duo to maintain their podium positions.