Sky duo extend race lead

Team Sky duo boss final climb

By Richard Simpson.   Last Updated: 06/09/11 6:58pm

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Wiggins: Teamed up with Froome on final climb

Wiggins: Teamed up with Froome on final climb

Sky Bet

Bradley Wiggins extended his lead at the Vuelta a Espana as his major rivals cracked on the tough mountaintop finish on stage 14.

Wiggins and Chris Froome saw off a spate of early attacks before working in tandem on the punishing first category La Farrapona climb to split an elite group of favourites to pieces.

In scenes that mirrored the teamwork on stage nine and La Covatilla, the British duo unleashed an emphatic display of climbing that saw a number of key rivals on the general classification distanced on the steep final ramps.

As the depleted peloton went under the banner signalling the final three kilometres Froome turned the screw with a titanic effort that saw chief rivals Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) distanced.

Wiggins led the pair home in fifth with Froome perched on his team-mate’s wheel in sixth after a stunning performance that left a trail of destruction in their wake.

The result saw Froome regain second place overall, still seven seconds back on Wiggins, with only Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) able to live with the accelerations on the climb.

That puts the Dutchman 36 seconds back on Wiggins and up into third, while Kessiakoff and Nibali slipped back to sixth and seventh on the general classification, 1:23 and 1:25 respectively off the red jersey.

Strong performance

At the finish Wiggins was once again full of praise for the team as he extended his tenure in the red jersey.

He said: “I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record but my team were great again and I wouldn’t be in this position without them.

“We are another day closer to the end now but tomorrow is a very hard stage. We will continue to fight all the way until the end and hopefully that will be enough to win this red jersey.

“I’m feeling good and I felt strong on the climb. It still hurts of course and it’s certainly not easy but everybody else is hurting as well. This race is about who can suffer for the longest.”

With one half of a tough weekend of climbing complete, the Brit is under no illusions that Sunday’s mountaintop finish will be another tough test, adding: “The Angliru is going to be extremely difficult, but as I said before, it is difficult for everyone and I will just have to fight all the way again.

“Gaining some time is a big boost for my confidence today and should make things a little bit easier.”

Riding for Txema

Arguably the most impressive climbing performance of the race from Team Sky was made all the more poignant on the day that marked one year since the tragic loss of team carer Txema Gonzalez.

The day was a sombre one for the team with the riders taking to the stage wearing black armbands in memory of the Spaniard who tragically lost his life during last year’s event.

At the head of the race it was Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) who took the stage victory after spending the day in the breakaway, taking advantage of team tactics behind him to solo to victory on the climb by a margin of 25 seconds.

The Estonian had been working alongside David De La Fuente (Geox) only for the Spaniard to be called back in aid of team-mate Juan Jose Cobo who launched a late attack, moving up to fourth overall as a result after taking second place on the stage.

De La Fuente had been part of a group of 17 riders that broke free just ahead of the 4km mark and, unlike the previous stage, were allowed to pull clear, quickly pulling out a margin a shade over eight minutes.

Climbing challenge

Team Sky were given significant help from Katusha in the pace-setting duties on the second category Puerto de la Ventana in what appeared to be a bid to set up Joaquim Rodriguez.

Business picked up on the Puerto de San Lorenzo as the peloton quickly began to split as Leopard Trek hit the front with Fabian Cancellara taking huge turns.

Daniel Moreno (Katusha) was on the attack for the second day running and quickly opened out a gap before linking up with fellow contender Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) as their respective team-mates helped pace them up the road.

Despite plenty of looking around it was largely stalemate in the group of favourites as attention turned to the daunting final climb.

Bruseghin and Moreno were finally reeled in with 6km to go while Froome resumed his climbing duties, bringing Wiggins to the head of the bunch as attacks began to fire off the front.

With only Cobo able to sustain a dig on the climb it was left to Froome and Wiggins to impose their will on an ever-thinning bunch, sounding a clear message to their rivals ahead of a second tough day of climbing on Sunday.

Day to remember

After the stage we caught up with a happy Sports Director Steven de Jongh back at the team hotel after what had been an impressive day out for the team.

He said: “The team did really well today. Everyone helped out and played their part. Then at the bottom of the final climb Froomey was still there. The other teams started to work because Moreno was in front and they were afraid of losing their places.

“So we didn’t have to do anything and we could wait until the last moment. Then Froomey pulled an incredible pace up there.

“All the other GC guys popped apart from Cobo who was in front and Mollema. So we did a really good job for GC and we’re looking forward to tomorrow now.”

Sunday’s test culminates with an ascent of the feared Alto de l’Angrilu, a mountain which features a number of severe and inconsistent gradients to test the riders to their limits.

On the most difficult climb in the race de Jongh added: “It’s a tough climb but it is tough for everybody. The Angliru is a mountain that suits nobody. It is just steep so it will be an exciting day ahead.”

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