In the Vuelta, Cobo (Movistar) shook off the two Sky riders on the agonisingly steep slopes of the Angliru last year to claim a surprise win ahead of Froome, who took second overall, with Wiggins in third. For Froome, the runner-up spot in the Vuelta represented a breakthrough in his grand tour racing - and his career – whilst for Wiggins, finishing on the Madrid podium, his best-ever grand tour overall result, confirmed he was back on track after crashing out and abandoning in the Tour de France.
Now racing in the Tour de France for the third time as a support rider for Movistar leader Alejandro Valverde, Cobo was witness to the British riders’ performances this year in the Tour of Romandie and the Dauphiné - both of which Wiggins won, with Froome fourth in the French race. And the 31-year-old Spaniard from Cantabria is impressed with what he’s seen.
“I get the impression that Froome has come on a lot since last year but Wiggins even more,” Cobo said. “They’re way further ahead than they were in the Vuelta and in the Dauphine I could see Wiggins was in a league of his own. His build-up for the Tour has been really impressive.”
“If he keeps going at that level he’ll be difficult to beat. He’s like a robot, his upper body is so still when he’s pedalling that it looks like he’s barely making an effort. Cadel Evans (BMC) and Danis Menchov will be up there, but Wiggins is definitely the big favourite for the Tour de France this year, on the same level that Alberto Contador was when he raced here. Right now, the rest are racing for second.”
Cobo warns, though, that “Sky will have quite a lot of responsibility for controlling the race when it comes to the mountainous stages, and all the other favourites will be waiting to see what they do. And it’s not the same racing and winning a week-long race as it is a three-week Tour.”
He is also impressed by former Geox teammate and 2010 Tour podium finisher Menchov (Katusha). “He’s in good shape. If there’s the slightest sign of trouble he’s right there at the front. In last year’s Vuelta he was more relaxed about things, but not here.”
With just 23 days of competition this season, Cobo himself is building towards the Vuelta, his big objective of the season, after a lacklustre first part of the year. Part of the ill-fated Geox squad, the Cantabrian was effectively teamless for 2012 until he reached a deal with Movistar in late December.
“To be honest I didn’t even start training until the beginning of January, suddenly I found the season was about to begin before I even knew it. So there was a delay in my training, but that’s been sorted out ”
He was training at altitude at a Sierra Nevada ski station in Spain for 21 days before the start of the Dauphine, which he abandoned. But he then rode and completed both the Spanish nationals, the road-race and time trial.
“The Dauphine wasn’t great, created a few doubts, I think I was trying too hard too soon to get back into racing. But since then I’ve felt better and better in training and I want to be able to support Alejandro when the race hits the mountains at the weekend. I haven’t reached my ideal form yet but I’m on my way.”