Juan Jose Cobo of Geox-TMC is the new leader of the Vuelta, the 30 year old Spaniard attacking on the fearsome climb of the Angliru this afternoon to take the red jersey from Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins. The Briton finished fifth, 1 minute 20 seconds down on the Spaniard, and now lies 3rd on GC, 46 seconds behind. Wouter Poels of Vacansoleil-DCM was second, crossing the line just ahead of Denis Menchov and Chris Froome, who remains second overall, 20 seconds down on Cobo, and may well now become the focus of Team Sky's efforts to win its first Grand Tour.
Introduced to the Vuelta in 1999 and only included three times since then, most recently in 2008 when Alberto Contador won on his way to overall victory in Madrid, the Angliru is, alongside Mont Ventoux in France and the Zoncolan in Italy, arguably the most feared climb of cycling’s three Grand Tours.
In some sections, the gradient goes above 20 per cent, and it was on the last of those, less than 3 kilometres from the end of the 12.5 kilometre ascent, that Wiggins hit difficulties, zig-zagging across the road, his troubles not eased by the riders being hemmed in by some of the estimated 100,000 fans on the climb today, leaving them little room to manoeuvre.
Ahead of the ascent of the Angliru, Vincenzo-Nibali’s Liquigas-Cannondale team had forced the pace at the front of the main group as it descended from the summit of the Category 1 Alto del Cordal, which had been crested first by mountains classification leader David Moncoutié of Cofidis, who is looking to win the polka dot jersey for the fourth year running.
Among the riders who lost contact with the main GC group on that fast descent were Wiggins and Froome, and while the Team Sky pair had rejoined it by the time the ascent of the Angliru started, they had needed to expend some energy to do so, the last thing they needed as they began the final climb.
Liquigas, led by the 21-year-old Peter Sagan, winner of two stages so far in this year’s Vuelta, were still at the front of the peloton on the early part of the fabled ascent, but their efforts would be in vain as defending champion Nibali had another day to forget. Instead, Geox-TMC’s Carlos Sastre was the first man to attack.
The 2008 Tour de France winner, whose late brother in law, Jose Maria ‘Chava’ Jiminez, became in 1999 the first man to win a Vuelta stage on the Angliru, was not riding for himself, however, with team mate Cobo having moved up to fourth overall yesterday.
As Sastre passed under the 7 kilometres to go banner, with the gradient heading up towards 22 per cent, it was another Spanish rider who had come into this year’s race with high hopes who attacked and bridged across to Sastre, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton.
Behind, gaps were starting to show in the GC group, with Cobo attacking and putting distance between himself and Wiggins, who still had Froome for company in what was now a very select group, the Spaniard bridging across to Anton and immediately passing him.
Froome, at the front of the red jersey group, which also contained Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, Poels of Vacansoleil and Cobo’s team mate, Menchov, looked calm as he sought to keep Cobo within sight, the Geox-TMC man enjoying an advantage of nearly a quarter of a minute as he passed under the 5 kilometre to go banner.
The Spaniard doubled that advantage over the next kilometre, while behind him Froome and Wiggins continued to seek to ride at their own tempo, with the red jersey himself coming to the front until that last steep section resulted in him losing the overall lead.
Earlier in the stage, a three man breakaway had managed to get away comprising Simon Geschke of Skil-Shimano, Garmin-Cervelo’s Andrew Talansky, and Dmitri Champino from AG2R.
That trio still led the race over the Category 2 Alto de Tenebredo, but they were caught on the Alto del Cordal as Moncoutié went on the attack to claim the maximum points on offer on that ascent.
Vuelta Stage 15 result 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 4h 01' 56'' 2 POELS, Wouter Vacansoleil-DCM + 48'' 3 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 48'' 4 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 48'' 5 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 1' 21'' 6 ANTON, Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi + 1' 21'' 7 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 1' 35'' 8 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 1' 35'' 9 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 1' 35'' 10 LAGUTIN, Sergey Vacansoleil-DCM + 1' 35'' 11 MARTIN, Daniel Garmin-Cervelo + 1' 41'' 12 DUARTE, Fabio Andrés Geox-TMC + 1' 52'' 13 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 2' 02'' 14 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 2' 17'' 15 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 2' 37'' 16 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 2' 43'' 17 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 2' 43'' 18 ZAUGG, Oliver Leopard Trek + 2' 43'' 19 PARDILLA, Sergio Movistar + 3' 01'' 20 TXURRUKA, Amets Euskaltel-Euskadi + 3' 22'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 15 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 59h 57' 16'' 2 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 20'' 3 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 46'' 4 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 1' 36'' 5 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 2' 37'' 6 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 3' 01'' 7 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 3' 06'' 8 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Canondale + 3' 27'' 9 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 3' 58'' 10 POELS, Wouter Vacansoleil-DCM + 4' 13''
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.