Chris Froome (Team Sky) failed to distance Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) on the Peña Cabarga climb on stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana but he was the hero of the day after his do-or-die attack in the final kilometre and deserved to take his first grand tour stage win.
Froome thought he'd cracked Cobo at one point but the Spaniard came back up to him to hold onto his red race leader's jersey.
"It was close. I thought I had him there for a second but he came back on me," Froome said.
"I thought I'd got him off but then I saw a shadow hovering around me in the last 100 metres or so. But I didn’t hold anything back so I've no regrets. The team has done a fantastic job in the last two and half weeks and we can't be happier."
Froome won a stage at the Giro del Capo in 2009 while riding for Barloworld but considers his Vuelta stage win as his first major professional victory. His father and brother were at the summit finish to see him win.
"I'm really happy to win my first race. It's a special day," he said.
"It's always been my dream to ride a Grand Tour and go for the general classification. I just didn’t think it'd happen so soon. It's a dream come true."
He revealed that Team Sky studied the video footage of the same finish form last year's Vuelta, won by Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha). Seeing the steepness of the final kilometre made him wait before launching his one big attack.
"It was quite an eventful last two kilometres…" he said. "We watched the finish from last year and so we knew the last kilometre was very decisive, when either someone’s going to be on their limit or try and make difference."
"With 800 metres to go, I tried to jump, got an initial gap and thought I'd held him off but in the last 100 metres he came back again. When I thought Cobo had got the stage, I just managed to get past him for the win."
Only 13 seconds behind in the GC
Froome took a 20 second time bonus for winning the stage and finished a second ahead of Cobo. That means he is just 13 seconds down in the overall classification. He knows it will be difficult to dislodge Cobo on the remaining stages of the Vuelta but he refused to accept defeat.
"We're still not in Madrid yet, so it's all to go for," he said.
"I've not thought about the days ahead but for sure I'll keep fighting all the way to Madrid. And taking time bonuses is probably the only way to do that."
Praise from Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins again praised Froome for his performance in a Twitter message. Wiggins suggested that the crowd on the climb – mainly fired up fans of Cobo, who lives nearby – had threatened Froome, but congratulated him, writing: "Chris Froome going from strength to strength, Superb. And all that after people shouting at him, "you win we kill you", unbelievable."
Froome also praised Wiggins, saying: "It’s easy to look back afterwards and say if you did this or if you did that maybe differently. That’s the way it’s going to be. I've learned so much riding for Bradley and think I probably wouldn’t be in this position if wasn’t for him."