Spanish climbing specialist Igor Anton seized back the Tour of Spain leader's red jersey after powering to victory on the gruelling 11th stage in the Pyrenees mountains here on Wednesday.
The Euskaltel rider finished 3sec ahead of compatriot Ezequiel Mosquera after the 208.4-km ride from Vilanova i la Geltru in northeastern Spain to the ski resort of Pal in the tiny principality of Andorra.
In third was another Spaniard, Xavier Tondo, 10 seconds behind the winner.
The 27-year-old Anton first took the race lead after Saturday's eighth stage, the first climbing foray of this year's race. But he was knocked off top spot by countryman Joaquin Rodriguez, of Caisse d'Epargne, after Tuesday's 10th stage.
Rodriguez's bid to retain the lead was dashed in the final kilometres of the final climb when he dropped off the pace. He eventually finished in 17th place at 59 seconds behind Anton.
Anton now holds a 45-second overall lead over Italian Vincenzo Nibali, of Liquigas, in the overall standings, with Cervelo rider Tondo third.
"I'm in a cloud, enjoying this like a little child," said Anton, who also won the fourth stage on August 31. "I didn't come here to win the Tour but I now have a good chance and I am not going to waste it," he said.
"I'm not ruling anything out, but you can always have a bad day," he said, noting that Rodriguez "fell back completely."
Rodriguez voiced his deep disappointment.
"It was a shame because I knew the climb and knew that it would suit me perfectly," he said. "But I couldn't keep up, I totally ran out of steam."
Mosquera said he felt "it was a shame that I was so close to winning, it's my destiny to finish second or third. This year, I though that I couldn't lose, and then I saw Igor Anton."
There was disappointment also for one of the top favorites for this year's Tour, Russia's Denis Menchov of the Rabobank team, who finished 56th, more than five minutes behind Anton, and is now 28th in the overall standings.
Thursday's 12th stage takes the cyclists 175 kilometres from Andorra la Vella to Lleida in northeastern Spain.
The 21-stage Tour of Spain, the third of the Grand Tours after the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, wraps up in Madrid on September 19.
© AFP 2010
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