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Igor Anton Hernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) wins the stage
Euskaltel rider takes a special win as Vuelta returns to the Basque Country
Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made up for a disappointing overall performance in the Vuelta a Espana with an emotional victory in Bilbao at the end of stage 19, in front of thousands of cheering Basque fans.
The Vuelta was back in the often troubled region after a 33-year absence and Anton was the perfect winner to turn any possible tension and risk of protest into a celebration of Basque cycling. He comes from Galdakao, on the outskirts of Bilbao and even closer to the Alto El Vivero climb that was covered twice during the final 50km of the stage.
"It's difficult to understand what I've done. To win here, in front of my fellow Basques and my friends is extraordinary," Anton said in an emotional voice after getting a huge cheer from the crowd packed into the finish area, many waving Basque flag.
"I'd hoped to do well in the GC at this year's Vuelta and perhaps even be in the red leader's jersey when the race came to the Basque Country. That didn't happen but winning here is very special."
"I know the climb like the palm of my hand, I must have ridden it hundreds of times. I felt good and wanted to take advantage of a special day. I wanted to do something for my friends who were out on the climb. It was crazy to have so many people cheering me so close up."
Anton made sure he was part of the break of the day and had the advantage of teammate Gorka Verdugo in the four-rider move. He attacked on the second ascent of the Alto El Vivero. Bruseghin tried to stay as close as he could but Anton was cheered to the summit of the climb and then hung on the run-in to the finish in central Bilbao, to win by 41 seconds.
"It's the first time I've won from a breakaway like that. It's good for my morale and for the future. It show I can win other stages," he said.
"I was very nervous this morning because I knew it was a special day. I knew I'd have to be in the break and that's never an easy thing to do. I finally got in and it felt good. Verdugo did a great job helping me and the break went away. We were committed to making it work so that we'd get to the finish."
"I suffered a lot on the second time up the climb. I suffered on the descent and the final kilometres too, but I felt it was my day."
Anton lost any chance of overall victory when he lost almost two minutes on the climb to Sierra Nevada on stage four. He then cracked mentally and lost more and more time, eventually slipping to 33rd place at over 50 minutes.
"It was hard blow both physically and mentally but it also meant I've learned a lot about my self at this Vuelta, much more than in the past," he explained.
"Last year everything went well until I crash out. I won two stages and had the race lead. This year it was more difficult and I feel this win pays me back for all the suffering."
"I think one of the reason why I struggled is that I didn't recover 100 percent after riding the Giro d'Italia. I did the same things as I did last year but cycling isn't an exact science. I just didn’t have the same form and didn't feel good."
"I hope to go better in 2012. Even years are usually good to me and I hope to try and finish on the podium in next year's Vuelta."