Gilbert hangs on to Vuelta lead

Belgian digs deep to stay in the red jersey

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) managed to hang onto the red leader’s jersey at the Vuelta but suffered on the late climb of Alto de Valdepeñas de Jaén and on the steep ramp to the finish line.

Gilbert won stage three to Marbella and took the lead with a solo attack on the climb to the finish. However he was forced on the defensive on the much tougher day and steeper finish on stage four.

He finished fifth, five seconds down on Anton. The Basque climber took a 20-second time bonus for his stage victory and is now second overall, just ten seconds behind Gilbert.

“I hung on but I suffered a lot,” Gilbert said.

“During the stage my team controlled the four breakaway riders. They weren’t dangerous for GC so it was good for us. I was well positioned before the final climb but Katusha set the pace really high and many riders lost contact. When I passed the Alto de Valdepeñas with my main adversaries, I thought I could keep the jersey but it was close.

“There was nothing I could do against Anton. On a climb like that, everyone ends up where they should be! But the Mur de Huy at the Flèche-Wallonne is harder than this one.

“I wasn’t feeling as good as yesterday. Again I suffered in the heat. I’m some percentage points off my best form and that made the difference between winning and not winning the stage.”

Despite losing time to Anton, Gilbert still hopes to hold onto the bright red race leader’s jersey until the tough late climb on stage eight to Xorret del Catí next Saturday.

“Defending the jersey is a great motivating factor for the whole team,” he said.

“I have some chances to keep it till the end of stage 8 I guess but rain is expected tomorrow and as much as I enjoy being the leader of the Vuelta, I won’t take any crazy risks if it’s dangerous.”

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