Spaniard still worried about time bonuses
Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) is just one stage away from securing victory at the Vuelta España but with just a 13-second lead on Chris Froome (Team Sky), he is refusing to start any celebrations until he has crossed the final finish line in Madrid on Sunday.
Cobo kept Froome under control during the hilly stage to Vitoria, even when the Briton made a surprise attack as he mistook the 20km to go banner for that of the final intermediate sprint.
He knows that there are still 32 bonus seconds up for grabs during Sunday's final 95.6km stage to Madrid: 6, 4 and 2 at two late intermediate sprints and then 20. 12 and 8 seconds on the line at the finish.
"I haven't won mathematically yet, I can still lose because of the time bonuses, so I've got to suffer for another day," Cobo said after pulling on the race leader's red jersey again in Vitoria.
Cobo and his Geox-TMC team have carefully controlled the racing during the two stages in the Basque Country, letting breakaways take away key time bonuses and then giving Igor Anton the chance of winning in his home town of Bilbao.
"I've enjoyed the last few days and it's been great to visit the Basque Country and see so many people along the roadside," Cobo said.
"Today there were a lot of people on the Urkiola climb. I was ready to respond to an attack from Froome but instead he went for the time bonuses. But it didn't work out for him. When he jumped away I thought that he was going for a long attack. I didn't stop to work out why and just went after him. Then I realised he'd got confused by the banners. After that there was no problem because we had Carlos Sastre up the road and then the sprinters team took over."
Sastre tries for stage win
After Froome's botched sprint when he mistook the 20km to go banner for the final time bonus sprint point, Cobo's teammate Carlo Sastre put in first a bid to take the bonus seconds away and then a serious attempt at netting a stage victory for himself.
Sastre said it was hard work protecting Cobo's lead, and after most of the breakaway was caught it was important that the team take any opportunity away from Team Sky to get Froome bonus seconds behind solo attacker Carlos Barredo (Rabobank).
"We wanted the bonus sprints to be taken by the breakaways riders and spoil the options of the Sky riders," Sastre said.
"Froome got going too early for a bonus sprint. He went at the 20km banner thinking it was the bonus sprint. When he stopped I was behind Cobo's wheel. I started when there were 3km to the [actual] sprint bonus and I carried on to avoid to prevent anyone from getting those bonus seconds.
"Then I saw Barredo a few meters ahead of me and I thought: 'I'll make the last attempt and it will be what it has to be'. I knew it was really difficult to stay away on a day like today, but something inside me pushed me to try and, why not, to dream of the stage victory which I wanted so much.
"I was caught in the last two kilometers, as expected, but I wanted to leave my mark on this Vuelta."