Having finished fourth in this year's edition of La Fléche Wallonne - behind no less than Cadel Evans, Joaquin Rodriguez and Alberto Contador - Igor Antón proved that he's a rider to watch at this year's Vuelta a España with victory in Valdepeñas de Jaén yesterday.
The Spanish rider was too strong for Liquigas-Doimo's Vincenzo Nibali, HTC-Columbia rider Peter Velits and countryman Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), in the process putting himself in second overall and attributing his performance to thorough preparation and the experience gained in 'La Fléche'.
"It was a finish that suited me well. We came here to see it [before the race] and we knew it had ramps up to 23 percent," Antón told Spanish news agency Europa Press. "I had in mind to try, but seeing as they was Joaquín Rodríguez and Philippe Gilbert it wasn't all me. Learning the course helped me as did the experience gained in the Fleche Wallonne," he added.
There was another factor in Antón's performance he was quick to mention - the role of Mikel Nieve. His Euskaltel-Euskadi teammate fought off attacks from Caisse d'Epargne to ensure his man would have a safe run to the finale and the best shot at victory.
"If not for him [Nieve] I would not have won. He was key to negating the attacks of both [Rigoberto] Urán and Luis León Sánchez - both from the Caisse d'Epargne," said Antón. "It was a lucky win here at the Vuelta, I did it at Calar Alto in 2006," he explained before adding that now he "aspires to everything".
And at 10 seconds behind overall leader Philippe Gilbert, may well Antón dare to dream of what's possible in this Vuelta. Omega Pharma-Lotto's man in red paid tribute to the strength of his rivals after what was another tough day in the saddle.
"From now on I'm not ruling anything out. My participation at the moment leaves me feeling that I've done the homework," said Gilbert. "The stage was very fast. In the final climb I escaped the group and I became a bit isolated. But after his strength [in the finale] Antón was exultant," he added.