Team Sky's Chris Froome this afternoon pulled off a stunning victory on the steep ascent to Peña Cabarga to ride himself right back into contention for the Vuelta in race leader Juan Jose Cobo's home region of Cantabria. Cobo seemed to have been distanced but recovered to pass Froome with the line in sight, but the Kenyan-born rider had just enough left to overhaul the Geox-TMC rider, crossing 1 second ahead of the Spaniard. Froome gets 20 bonus seconds, but Cobo, in finishing second, gets 12 seconds himself and retains the race lead. However, his advantage has been cut to 13 seconds.
Bauke Mollema of Rabobank finished third, 21 seconds behind Cobo, and has made up time on Bradley Wiggins, who retains his podium position but finished 12th today, 29 seconds behind the winner. Mollema also takes over the points classification from Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez, injured in a crash yesterday and clearly struggling today.
The battle between Froome and Cobo on today’s final climb could be the defining moment of the 66th Vuelta, and will certainly be talked about for years to come. The ascent to the finish may only have been 6 kilometres long, but with ramps of up to 18 per cent in places, an explosive finish was guaranteed.
Cobo, who took the overall lead from Wiggins on the Angliru on Sunday, attacked just before the flamme rouge and quickly passed the only man ahead on the road, Omega Pharma Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Only Froome was able to follow the race leader, who was enjoying huge and sometimes over-enthusiastic support in his home region.One of those fans got a bit too close to Froome for comfort, the Team Sky rider swatting him out of the way as he attacked Cobo.
After trying desperately to cling to his rival’s wheel the Geox rider suddenly found himself 10, perhaps 15 seconds behind and the red jersey seemed poised to change hands once again. Somehow, though, Cobo managed to recover, pulling himself back up to Froome’s wheel and passing him as the finish line approached, the Team Sky rider wobbling as the Spaniard rode by.
There was just enough road though for Froome to recover his poise and craftily sneak past Cobo on the inside to take the biggest win of his career, plus those nine precious seconds that may yet see him crowned Britain’s first ever Grand Tour winner.
Geox, and David de la Fuente in particular, had put in a huge amount of work earlier on in today’s stage through Rioja country, which at 211 kilometres was the longest of this year’s race. The pace being set was well ahead of that anticipated by race organisers as the main bunch, led by Geox, reined in a breakaway well ahead of that last climb.
There was little hint, however, that the finale would be played out between the two men at the top of the overall standings when Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin attacked as the leaders passed under the 5 kilometres to go banner. The Irishman, looking to repeat his storming win in Stage 9 of the race on the climb of La Covatilla, quickly distanced the chasing Amets Txurruka of Euskaktel-Euskadi and established a decent gap on the GC group.
However, with 3 kilometres to go he was caught by Movistar’s Marzio Bruseghin, and the pair were subsequently joined by Saxo Ban-SunGard’s Chris Anker Sorensen. A short downhill section a couple of kilometres out saw Van Den Broeck, who has had a subdued race as he continues to recover from his broken collarbone sustained during the Tour de France, launch his own attack, and the three leaders were brought back.
Once Cobo attacked with a kilometre to go, however, only Froome was able to stay with him, the pair fighting it out all the way to the line.
Vuelta Stage 17 result 1 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky 4h 52' 38'' 2 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 1'' 3 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 21'' 4 MARTIN, Daniel Garmin-Cervelo + 24'' 5 ANTON, Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi + 27'' 6 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 27'' 7 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio Movistar + 29'' 8 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 31'' 9 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 31'' 10 INTXAUSTI, Beñat Movistar + 35'' 11 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 35'' 12 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 39'' 13 SÖRENSEN, Chris Saxo Bank-SunGard + 42'' 14 MONCOUTIE, David Cofidis + 49'' 15 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 51'' 16 LAGUTIN, Sergey Vacansoleil-DCM + 54'' 17 ROCHE, Nicolas AG2R-La Mondiale + 1' 02'' 18 POELS, Wouter Vacansoleil-DCM + 1' 14'' 19 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard-Trek + 1' 22'' 20 LE MEVEL, Christophe Garmin-Cervelo + 1' 34'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 17 1 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC 69h 31' 41'' 2 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 13'' 3 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 1' 41'' 4 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 2' 05'' 5 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 3' 48'' 6 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 4' 13'' 7 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 4' 31'' 8 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 4' 45'' 9 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 5' 20'' 10 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 5' 33''
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.