Euskaltel leader knows battle for red will heat up
Enjoying his first rest day as the overall leader of the Vuelta a España, Igor Antón says that whilst losing the red jersey would be disappointing, it wouldn't be a failure.
Speaking to reporters at a rest day press conference in Tarragona, the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader, who holds the narrowest of advantages over Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez on general classification, knows that there's plenty of pressure from the riders targeting his "jersey rojo".
"Yesterday [Sunday] we saw that Barredo or Peraud could have been [in the red jersey] because they were leaders [on the road]; at any of those times you can lose the red jersey. It would be a bad thing to lose [the race lead]. It's true that every day we could lose it, but it wouldn't be a failure," explained Antón.
Indeed, Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Jean-Christophe Peraud expressed his disappointment at not capturing the red jersey after placing himself in the day's main break - the Frenchman was the race leader on the road but faded late to finish 55 seconds behind stage winner David Lopez and missed out on breaking through to the top of the general classification.
It was good news for Antón, whose team worked hard to keep him at the top of the standings, and he praised his teammates' efforts. "If not for them, I would not keep the jersey," he said. "They worked because we did not have any kind of help and it's why we got to keep the Sabbath. It is a dream come true. This jersey is something historic for me because being a leader in a grand tour is a precious thing."
Looking ahead, Antón sees the stage to the summit of the Alto de Cotobello as very important, going so far as to suggest it will decide the final overall standings. "This is a climb with a continual effort; of course I'll be there, and I feel fine, which is the most important thing and that my senses still remain intact," he said.
Despite hoping for a good ride on the Cotobello, Antón was quick to play down his overall chances whilst pointing to some of his rivals, which include Fränk Schleck, Joaquin Rodriguez and possibly Xavier Tondo, who he says is a dark horse for the general classification.
"I'm not going to win, but I'll live in the present, day-by-day," he said. "I have yet to get through the race and it will be very difficult to keep the red jersey. I've already done my homework and whatever comes from now will be welcome," added Antón.
He also paid tribute to Txema González, who recently passed away from a sudden illness and whose funeral was held in Vitoria yesterday. He had previously worked with the Euskaltel-Euskadi squad and knew many of the staff and riders well. "When I became leader in Xorret de Catí, Txema Gonzalez was dedicated with all my dreams," said Antón.
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