Vuelta 11: Brad Wiggins takes over lead

Moncoutie wins at Estación de Montaña Manzaneda

The mountain finish on Estación de Montaña Manzaneda inspired yet more entertaining racing at the Vuelta a Espana and another new race leader, with Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) pulling on the ‘Roja’ leader’s jersey after David Moncoutié (Cofidis) won the stage alone.

Moncoutié showed his climbing skills and racing experience on the mountain finish to take his fourth Vuelta stage in four years. The Frenchman made sure he was part of the key breakaway of the day and then attacked alone on the 19km climb, finishing 1:18 ahead of Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank). Moncoutié also took the blue polka-dot climber’s jersey.

“I had studied the course well, and planned where to attack on the last climb,” he said. “I was thinking about this stage for a while, and after falling short at Sierra Nevada, another finish that I like, I’ve managed to do it.”

Chris Froome’s moment of glory at the Vuelta ended in the final kilometres of the long, exposed climb to the line, with Wiggins confirming he is the strongest at Team Sky and so ending any possible rivalry about team leadership.

Froome initially responded to several attacks but then slipped down the line of riders in the front group as Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and then Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) launched attacks. Those moves forced Wiggins to respond and Froome lost 27 seconds at the line.

Rodriguez got a gap with a late surge but he only managed to gain seven seconds on his main rivals. Importantly for Wiggins, Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) was not in the front group –he finished in the same time as Froome, and so Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) took the overall race lead. Froome is now in second place overall at seven seconds, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) third at 11 seconds. Strangely for a mountain finish, the gaps in the GC tightened rather than opening.

Wiggins became the tenth British rider to take the race lead at the Vuelta. He also wore the maglia Rosa at the 2010 Giro d’Italia but this time, he has a real shot at overall victory.

A 19-rider breakaway shapes the stage

The long climb to the finish was always going to be decisive but that did not stop riders going on the attack, virtually from the gun. Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) was the first to jump away after just one kilometre. He was joined by others but Team Sky quickly closed it down and a later move lead by Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step).

However after 30km, the break of the day, made up of 16 riders, went clear.

Aitor Pérez (Lampre-ISD), Vincente Reynés (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank), David Bernabéu and Adrián Palomares (Andalucía-Caja Granada), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Evgueni Petrov and Joan Horrach (Katusha), Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Michael Albasini (HTC), Stuart O'Grady (Leopard), Jonas Jørgensen (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC) were all there. They were later joined by Mathias Frank (BMC), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) to make a break of 19 riders.

Only Duarte and Sanchez were real threats to Chris Froome’s race lead and Team Sky rode tempo to keep them in check. Duarte became virtual race leader for a few minutes but the gap fellow below seven minutes as the big final climb approached.

Moncoutié surged away to take the climber’s points on the third category Alto de Ermida ahead of Montaguti but that was only a taster of a climb before the 19km haul up to Estación de Montaña Manzaneda.

Before the climb really kicked in, Palomares attacked and opened a brief gap but the strongest climbers from the move jumped across before Paulinho and then Moncoutié took turns to attack. The veteran Frenchman had been looking for a stage victory and mountain points since the start of the Vuelta in Benidorm. Suddenly he had a chance for both and did not falter. He gradually opened a gap on the chasers, meaning he had plenty of time to celebrate his victory atop the windswept mountain.

Moncoutié is the eighth leader of this year’s Vuelta and can fortunately look forward to a quiet first day in red on Thursday. Stage 12 is 167km ride from Ponteareas to Pontevedra. The stage includes several short hills and three finishing circuits around Pontevedra but is expected to finish with a bunch sprint.

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