By Bjorn Haake in Las Rozas
French rider David Moncoutié (Cofidis) has secured the mountains jersey in the Vuelta a España, provided he makes it in one piece to the Madrid finish line. He holds a commanding 53-point lead. With three more category one climbs in the remaining three days, the most points one rider could gain is 48.
Moncoutié was already optimistic before the start of Thursday's stage 18, although even then he cautioned the deal wasn't sealed just yet. "Mathematically it is still possible that if the second or third-placed riders take all the points today and win the time trial I will lose the jersey."
But that would have been a scenario where Moncoutié would have gotten no points at all. "My legs are good, but it is the third week," said the red jersey holder. He was indicating he wouldn't be giving up without a fight. As it turned, neither Christophe Kern (Crédit Agricole) nor Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick Step) were in the break and could close in on Moncoutié.
Before the start of the stage, Moncoutié had said that it may be sealed today. Afterwards, it was a fact, although Moncoutié remained vigilant. "I wait for Madrid and concentrate on the race." He knew that anything could happen, such as a simple crash taking him out of the event.
But the Cofidis rider admitted to Cyclingnews the importance of it. "It is nice to have best climber in a Grand Tour on the palmarès." Yet, he would give the edge to a stage win in the Tour de France, of which he has two. "I think that would be slightly more important," Moncoutié added.
Despite having reached this success, Moncoutié is not interested in just rolling into Madrid. "Now I want to do a good time trial so I can place in the top 10 in the general classification." He currently lies in ninth and is set to reach both goals on Sunday.