Vuelta Stage 8: Anton takes lead, Moncoutié throws down gauntlet to Martinez for polka dot
Frenchman who won last year's KOM takes stage, all change in a very tight GC...

Anton Igor is the new leader of the Vuelta a Espana this evening following today’s Stage 8 from Villena - Xorret de Catí, wresting the race leader’s red jersey from Philippe Gilbert on a day when the climbers came to the fore, with last year’s mountains classification winner David Moncoutié of Cofidis took the stage win and was followed home by the current wearer of the polka dot jersey, Xacobeo-Galicia’s Serafin Martinez.

The latter, who led the climbers’ classification for 11 days in his debut Vuelta in 2007, crested three of the day’s first four climbs in first place and now stands on 36 points, ten ahead of Moncoutié, who took maximum points on the final, Category 1 climb, the Alto Xorret de Cati, whose summit featured just 2km from the stage finish.

The Frenchman had attacked 50km into the 190km stage, Martinez identifying the threat and responding immediately, with Johann Tschopp of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, third on the stage, AG2R-La Mondiale’s Jose Arrieta and the Astana rider Assan Bazayev also figuring in the break.

That group split apart on the final climb, however, with Moncoutié proving the strongest as he won the stage by nearly a minute from Martinez, who crossed the line with Tschopp and Arrieta, while 35 seconds later some of the fancied names for he overall title started rolling in.

Most notably, those included Katusha’s Jouaquin Rodriquez and Liquigas-Doimo rider Vincenzo Nibali, with Anton coming in moments after to take the red jersey, but just two seconds now separate those three riders. With time bonuses awarded in the Vuelta, unlike the Tour de France, the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider may have a fight on his hands to keep it tomorrow.

With five Spaniards and two Italians in the first seven places, the top of the GC now has a distinctly Latin look, but they’re followed by Ireland’s Nicolas Roche who appears to be building on what was an impressive performance in the Tour de France.

Of course, with a French mother and being born near Paris, and his family now running a hotel on the Cote d'Azur - not to mention the fact that he rode in French colours before fnally opting for Ireland - you could argue that Roche is simply keeping the Club Med theme going at the top of the overall standings.

Gilbert, the man who started today in the overall leader’s jersey, was involved in a crash 15km into the stage, which also involved Mark Cavendish of HTC-Columbia, who moved into the lead of the points classification on yesterday’s Stage 7 despite being pipped to the line by Lampre-Farnese Vini’s Alessandro Petacchi. Both riders were able to continue, however.

For the second time this week, the peloton observed a minute’s silence before the start of the stage. On Wednesday, the race commemorated France’s Laurent Fignon, who had died the previous day of cancer at the age of 50.

However, the man commemorated this morning, Team Sky soigneur Txema Gonzalez, who died in hospital in Seville yesterday after falling ill following last Saturday’s team time trial in the city, would have been personally known to a number of those riding today’s stage, with the Basque native having previously worked at Euskaltel-Euskadi and Saunier Duval.

Team Sky, which had earlier seen three riders abandon the race as a result of a virus unconnected to the condition that claimed Gonzalez’s life, had earlier reached a decision, with the backing of his family, to withdraw from the race as a mark of respect to their friend and colleague.

Vuelta Stage 8 result

1 MONCOUTIE, David (Cofidis) 5h 14' 32''
2 MARTÍNEZ, Serafín (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 54''
3 TSCHOPP, Johann (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) + 54''
4 ARRIETA, José Luis (AG2R La Mondiale) + 54''
5 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) + 1' 29''
6 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 1' 29''
7 ANTON, Igor (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 1' 29''
8 BAZAYEV, Assan (Astana) + 1' 32''
9 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 1' 32''
10 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 1' 35''
11 URAN, Rigoberto (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 48''
12 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 48''
13 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 2' 00''
14 PLAZA, Ruben (Caisse d'Epargne) + 2' 00''
15 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R La Mondiale) + 2' 00''
16 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 2' 00''
17 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 2' 02''
18 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 2' 12''
19 GARCÍA, David (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 2' 33''
20 GUSEV, Vladimir (Katusha) + 2' 36''

Vuelta overall standings after Stage 8

1 ANTON, Igor (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 32h 28' 49''
2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin (Katusha) Same time
3 NIBALI, Vincenzo (Liquigas-Doimo) + 2''
4 TONDO, Xavier (Cervelo TestTeam) + 42''
5 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 10''
6 PLAZA, Ruben (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 15''
7 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel (Xacobeo-Galicia) + 1' 18''
8 ROCHE, Nicholas (AG2R La Mondiale) + 1' 19''
9 VELITS, Peter (HTC-Columbia) + 1' 26''
10 VAN GARDEREN, Tejay (HTC-Columbia) + 1' 26''
11 URAN, Rigoberto (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 28''
12 DANIELSON, Thomas (Garmin-Transitions) + 1' 42''
13 SCHLECK, Frank (Team Saxo Bank) + 1' 47''
14 GILBERT, Philippe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) + 1' 55''
15 KARPETS, Vladimir (Katusha) + 1' 57''
16 ARROYO, David (Caisse d'Epargne) + 1' 58''
17 SASTRE, Carlos (Cervelo TestTeam) + 2' 11''
18 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León (Caisse d'Epargne) + 2' 21''
19 NIEVE, Mikel (Euskaltel-Euskadi) + 2' 35''
20 MENCHOV, Denis (Rabobank) + 3' 16''

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.