By Bjorn Haake in Comillas
Egoi Martínez may have held the Vuelta's golden jersey at the second rest day, but his Euskaltel-Euskadi team will be changing its focus over to team leader Igor Antón for the coming stages as a hope for the overall win in Madrid. 15th overall in 2006 and 8th last year, Antón has a promising future ahead of him.
Martínez was the first to admit that his golden days are counted. "I won't carry the jersey much longer. But I hope it will go from my shoulders over to Igor Antón... He has confirmed his talent here at the Vuelta, climbing with the best."
Antón for his part knows there is a lot of pressure on him, but he seems to be able to handle it. "It takes confidence [to ride at this level]. Tomorrow is one more day in a 21-day race, and I hope I can do well."
His form is certainly there. "Currently, I am feeling well. So far, each day went fine, now I just have to keep it up." To do well, he will have to closely watch what the others do and he already noted one thing. "The attacks by Contador are very impressive."
But Contador wasn't the only rider on Antón's watch list. "There is also Sastre, who appears to be struggling a bit, but he is tough. And also Robert Gesink is a good climber, even though he weighs a bit more." Following the others is important when a stage win is the goal, but measuring one's efforts carefully is also important. Antón was hoping that the steady, even if steep, climbing towards the top of the Angliru may benefit him. Yet he acknowledged that in the end, everybody will have to try to find their own rhythm. "I hope I can be there at the end, but I don't know."
At least Antón has done his homework. "Yes, I know the Angliru. It is a very impressive climb. I will ride a 34x29 or 28."
Teammates will play a minor role and it is unlikely that Martínez will be able to provide much assistance once the final kilometres are reached. The gradient won't let much play for tactics. It is every man for himself, at his own rhythm. Antón said that usually climbs are done fairly fast, where the kilometre banner in the end come reasonably quickly. "You see five to go, four to go... But on the Angliru it seems to never end. The last 6.5km are the hardest and I think it will take more than half an hour."
The Euskaltel captain wasn't quite sure what he preferred, the stage win or getting into the top three overall. "Both are difficult, but I think winning the stage there would be quite an achievement."
He did know about the best way to prepare for such a hard set of mountain stages. "For me it is better to have a rest day before the mountains. True, some are saying you can lose your rhythm a bit. But I get to recuperate. Given that the stage is over 200km for me a rest day is definitely better."