Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) turned the Vuelta a España on its head Sunday afternoon, with victory atop the Angliru after a race-defining stage that saw Bradley Wiggins lose the overall lead and the Spaniard inherit the red jersey.
It was reward for a gutsy performance that the Geox-TMC rider has threatened to deliver during the mountain stages of this Vuelta; while he hasn’t shown much of the same blistering form at any point this season, Cobo pulled out the best when it mattered the most – on the mythical Angliru.
Wiggins cracked in the final three kilometres of the final climb and now sits in third overall, 46 seconds behind Cobo, with his Team Sky teammate Chris Froome in second, 20 seconds behind the general classification leader.
Cobo beat surprise packet Wout Pouls of Vacansoleil-DCM by 48 seconds, with two-time Vuelta champion and Geox-TMC teammate Denis Menchov taking third.
“I’m very tired – everybody is at this point [in the race] but nobody could get around me today, which was good,” said Cobo after the finish.
And after several years in the relative wilderness, Cobo has blasted back in the consciousness of the cycling public, something to which he alluded after the finish. “I can enjoy this victory because this job is my passion,” he said. “I thought about leaving the sport but this is very important to me.”
While Cobo was celebrating his climb up the leaderboard, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liguigas-Cannondale) was continuing his slip down it, the Italian now sitting in eighth overall, 3:27 behind the red jersey and facing a soul-searching rest day tomorrow.
Brad Wiggins finishes
Another man who will tomorrow be wondering where it went wrong is Wiggins, the Briton finishing 1:20 behind after finding the final brutal slopes of the Angliru too hard following his heroics during this second week of the Vuelta. Whilst he is still on the podium overall, he has a lot of work to do if he’s to make up the lost ground to Cobo in the final six days.
All eyes on the Angliru
Boasting a finish on the famous Angliru climb, the queen stage of this year’s Vuelta promised to be the defining day of the event; organisers applied the same formula to the parcours as yesterday’s test – a second half heavy in climbing that would definitely strain the big guns on the general classification.
With Wiggins starting the day seven seconds in front of teammate Chris Froome and 45 seconds ahead of Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema, the mission for Team Sky was simple: minimize the Brit’s losses and if possible try to bolster his overall lead.
That tactic went to plan as three men got away early in the stage – Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervélo), Dimitry Champion (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Skil Shimano’s Simon Geschke had themselves an advantage over the field of six minutes, with 80km remaining.
Game over… Game on!
As the peloton crested the Alto de Tenebredo – with 57km until the finish – the break still had itself 5:10; 17km later that had dropped to just 2:10 however, as the tough climbing began in earnest and the escapees’ time out front was limited.
Next on the menu was the first category Alto del Cordal, the perfect site for Geschke to drop his two breakaway companions, who were soon absorbed by a peloton that was being whipped up by the likes of Liquigas-Cannondale.
Active in yesterday’s stage, Movistar’s Marzio Bruseghin was at it again today and soon caught the lone German out front; with the summit of the Cordal approaching the Italian was joined by stage winners David Moncoutie and Dan Martin plus Carlos Sastre to form a small group at the front of the race.
As the main field approached the Angliru it was time for 2008 Tour de France champion Sastre to make a mark on this year’s Vuelta and he set off solo, boasting a lead of 16 seconds with eight grueling kilometres remaining. Behind him Nibali was starting to falter, falling back before the hardest sections of the climb had even begun.
Getting into the Les Cabañes section, with its maximum gradient of 22 per cent, Sastre was joined by Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton, who hasn’t enjoyed a good Vuelta and was hoping to make amends on the race’s biggest day. Aware of the danger present ahead, the peloton wasn’t giving the duo much leeway but before long Anton had gone solo in pursuit of the stage win.
Enter the Cobo
On the maximum slopes it was game over for Martin, Bruseghin and Sastre, the cue for Cobo to jump across to lone leader Anton and leave him flailing with six kilometres remaining, getting into the same rhythm that saw him take second on yesterday’s stage and sit in the top 10 overall.
Positioned perfectly in the group behind Cobo, Wiggins had Froome for company, with Menchov, Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez and Pouls sitting on for the ride, the Team Sky men riding themselves closer to overall victory as the kilometres dragged by.
Despite the torturous gradient, Cobo continued his scything run to the finish and had 40 seconds over Wiggins’ group, which had shed Rodriguez in pursuit of the lone Spaniard. Hitting the Cueña les Cabres section – with a maximum gradient of 23.5 per cent and three kilometres until the finish – the Geox-TMC man was riding towards the overall leadership.
Struggling to stay in the hunt was Mollema, Martin, Fuglsang and Nibali whilst ahead chaos seemed to prevail amongst the crowds, motorcycles and mist. Digging deep into his reserves as a potential grand tour winner, Wiggins managed to keep Cobo to 43 seconds with less than two kilometres remaining… Or so it seemed.
While he was passing under the flamme rouge, his rhythm undisturbed despite the gradient, Cobo enjoyed a gap of 1:10 over Wiggins as it became apparent the British rider was losing his fight to maintain his overall advantage.
Zipping up his jersey in preparation for the finish line celebrations, Cobo had time to enjoy a win that seemed unlikely over the past two seasons; one of the men to suffer from the fallout surrounding Saunier Duval’s demise, he could announce his return to the top of the sport with a stunning solo effort on one of the cycling world’s most fearsome climbs.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.