Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have acknowledged that Geox-TMC’s Juan Jose Cobo was the strongest rider on today’s climb to the summit of the Angliru, the Spaniard’s stage victory putting him into the leader’s red jersey for the first time during this year’s race.
“I’m not really disappointed,” reflected Wiggins after today’s stage, admitting, “I didn’t expect to go so well. In the downhill before the Angliru, I had a mechanical. I was dropped but not for long. I was 15 to 20 seconds behind.
“I came back on but I had already put myself in the red before the last and decisive climb where Cobo was by far the strongest. With 5km to go, when Cobo was away, we set a tempo to keep him in sight and limit the losses. But in the steeper sections, it was difficult to go hard.”
Bradley Wiggins siffering on the Angliru (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Although Wiggins may have dropped to third overall and lost the red jersey, in finishing fifth, he did pick up time today almost every other rider who had begun the day in the top ten on GC.
“This kind of climb is definitely not my cup of tea but as I felt pretty good, we’ve again dropped some riders that we’d never thought we could do,” he continued.
“Considering that Cobo was too strong for us and that we’ve gone better than many climbers. As expected, I lost the jersey but Chris and I, we’re on the podium, so obviously it’s not game over. The overall win is not out of question.
Acknowledging the strength that Cobo, who in the shape of Sastre and Menchov has two men acting as domestiques for him who between them have won all three Grand Tours, Wiggins admitted: “It’s going to be difficult because it’s pretty clear who’s the strongest.
Team Sky’s Vuelta got off to an inauspicious start, with the British ProTeam finishing 20th out of the 22 starters in the Stage 1 team time trial, but as Wiggins observed, “Now we can’t blame what we did in Benidorm because Geox was even behind us.”
The Vuelta leader’s jersey wasn’t the only one that Wiggins lost today – back in Britain, his Team Sky colleague Alex Dowsett was winning the national time trial championship that Wiggins has held for the past two years, although of course he remains the national road race champion.
Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins on the Angliru (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Froome remains in second place on GC, 20 seconds behind Cobo, and agreed with his team leader that the Spaniard had simply been too strong today.
“I’ve got no regret,” he insisted. “Bradley and I went as hard as I could but Cobo was unstoppable. It’s a pity that only because of the time bonus, we’re not leading anymore, but there’s still a week to go and we haven’t said our last word yet.”
Alongside Froome, the 30-year-old Cobo has been one of the surprises of this year’s Vuelta, and takes the red jersey as the race is poised to head into his native Cantabria.
His pedigree is undoubted – while with Saunier Duval, he won stages of both the Tour de France and the Vuelta – but prior to the race, Geox-TMC’s challenge for the GC had been expected to come from either Denis Menchov, twice a winner of the race, or 2008 Tour de France champion, Carlos Sastre.
Instead, it’s Cobo who had emerged as the team’s big hope of turning round a season that was torpedoed before it even began when it missed out on UCI ProTour status last autumn, and with it a place in the Tour de France.
Carlos Sastre attacks early on the Angliru (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Today, Sastre attacked early on in the final climb, while Menchov kept tabs on the Team Sky pairing at the top of the GC after Cobo had launched his own attack to go off and win the stage.
“In theory, I was supposed to attack a bit later on and closer to the finishing line,” he disclosed after the stage, “but at half way into the climb, I had great feelings and I attacked just to give a try.
“As I got a significant gap and I was always kept informed by my directeur sportif, I kept going and I stayed away till the end.”
Juan Jose Cobo rides up the Angliru... (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Despite hailing from nearby Cantabria, this was the first time that Cobo had tackled the fabled Asturian climb. “I had planned to come and reconnoitre it between the Tour of Burgos and the Vuelta in order to choose which gear to use, but I didn’t have the time to do it,” he confessed, adding that in the end he chose a 34x32.
Asked if he believed that today’s performance had sealed the overall victory, Cobo said: “The Vuelta isn’t over yet. There are two remaining stages in the region of Cantabria, where I’m from, and two more in the Basque Country. I’m confident in my team but Chris Froome is still well positioned. He remains dangerous.
However, to wear the Vuelta leader’s jersey in his home region just days before the race concludes in Madrid is a fairytale for a rider who earlier this year was on the verge of quitting the sport.
“Yes, it’s true. Three months ago, I wanted to quit,” admitted Cobo. “I wasn’t getting any result. I wasn’t motivated anymore. I’ve suffered depression for a year and half.
“The staff of my team asked me to keep going until the end of my contract, to enjoy cycling and to just do my best,” he continued.
“And one day, everything changed in my mind and I came back to the highest level of cycling. Today’s victory and the red jersey make me forget all the bad moments I’ve experienced.”
... and into the red jersey (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale admitted that the game was up as far as defence of his title was concerned, comparing himself to a Spanish sporting institution that has found itself in the shadow of its chief rivals in recent years.
Vincenzo Nibali gives chase (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“I was going well,” said Nibali. “I’ve tried to ride for the stage win but other riders have been riding better than me, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “We can’t always win. Even Real Madrid doesn’t always win, right?
“Now it’s clear that I’m not going to win the Vuelta again this year. The hard stages are behind us and I understand that Cobo has already bagged the overall victory. Congratulations to all the guys who are in front of me.”
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.