Igor Anton will be remembered as a gentleman after the 2010 Vuelta a España. He acted and reacted as a great champion on his way to glory. He also faced with dignity the realization that he'd have to pull out of the race after a nasty crash at the bottom of the climb of Peña Cabarga where thousands of Basque fans had gathered to encourage him on stage 14 on Saturday.
"I'll keep these 14 days at the Vuelta as happy memories. I've lived a dream," the Euskaltel racer said instead of complaining about his broken elbow and his bruises. Even once in the refuge of his team car upon withdrawing from the race, he gave a a friendly salute to the TV cameras before heading off to the hospital.
"I crashed alone," said Anton. "I think I hit a hole or an obstacle. My hands went off the handlebar. I stood up and I saw blood all over the place, but I didn't know where I was or what was going on."
"Instinctively I've tried to get back on my bike, and I realized my right elbow couldn't bend. Our team doctor came straight away. He touched my arm and said, 'Forget about it, it's broken.'"
Thor Hushovd witnessed that the crashed occurred at 80km/h on the downhill section of a large road while all the GC contenders were fighting for positioning prior to the final climb. "Euskaltel has a lot of bad luck. I feel sorry for them," said the Norwegian champion.
The Basque team was in a compact formation around its captain which meant Egoi Martinez being also went down, was injured and had to withdraw.
"Anton had the Vuelta in his hands," said Carlos Sastre about the rider who was leading the race and had a good chance to increase his advantage with the time bonus allocated to the top three riders at the end of each stage.
This is not the first time Anton experienced bad luck at the Vuelta. In 2008, he was sixth on GC when he crashed in stage 13, which finished at the top of the gruelling climb of the Anglirù. In that incident, he sustained a broken hip, and it took him about a year to get back to the top level.
His team had decided to keep him fresh for this year's Vuelta. He skipped the Tour de France and was serving as the team's captain given the absence of last year's runner-up Samuel Sanchez.
"Unfortunately, I'm getting used to this kind of situation," Anton said. "When things were going well at the Vuelta, I stayed calm, and I kept my feet on the ground. Now I'll keep the same approach although my race has ended in an unexpected manner."
Looking at the bright side, he said, "I've proven that I can hope to win a Grand Tour. I'll come back with the intention of winning. With my teammates, who have done a fantastic job for me, we'll come back stronger in 2011."
Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez, who won the stage today, commiserated with the fallen race leader, "That's a pity about Anton's fall, but this is cycling. He young and I'm sure the future is for him."