Philip Deignan's chance of equalling the highest Irish Grand Tour finish since Stephen Roche placed ninth in the 1993 Giro d'Italia will come down to a 27.8 kilometre race against the clock today. Deignan (Cervélo TestTeam) fought hard to preserve his ninth place overall yesterday's final mountain stage of the race, having started two minutes and 57 seconds ahead of Juan José Cobo (Fuji Servetto) in the overall standings.
Cobo won the stage and reduced his deficit to Deignan to one minute and three seconds. The rides face a time trial stage in Toledo today and the final, sprinters' stage in Madrid tomorrow.
"I found it really hard to get going on the mountain but then I got a rhythm going," said Deignan after the stage yesterday. "I went so deep [winning stage 18] that I knew it was going to be really hard to follow the first five or ten guys today.
"I didn't want to take too many risks on the last descent. It was cold, wet and slippy. Really dangerous. I was just glad to get down in one piece and to hold onto ninth in the GC [general classification], that was the main goal."
Cobo beat Deignan in the Valencia time trial last week, but by only 19 seconds in the 30-kilometre distance. Even so, Deignan is unsure as to how things will go. "I don't know how it will go as regards ninth," he said. "Cobo is obviously pretty strong."
Directeur sportif Alex Sans Vega is more confident that he can hold on. "I think it's possible," he said. "The last time trial in a Grand Tour needs power. Whether or not you are a specialist is not as important in a big Tour. I think he has it, he still has the power to do a good time trial tomorrow. That should be enough to keep his place."
Deignan moved to the team after four years with AG2R La Mondiale. He has had a much more solid season than in years past, when illness and injury disrupted his racing. Knee problems and mononucleosis had stopped him reaching his full potential but he seems to be back on track now, taking the first Irish Grand Tour stage victory in seventeen years.
"The stage to Avila was a great performance," said Sans Vega. "I think it was time for him to do a performance like that. We always thought he is a talented rider, but probably because of injuries and bad luck in the past he could not show it. We have been working all year with him to help him get confidence. The goal here was to see how far he can go in the Vuelta a España, and he's done very well."
Barring accident, Deignan looks guaranteed of at least tenth place overall after today's time trial, but will fight hard to match Roche's 1993 Giro ride.