Despite taking a firm grip on the Vuelta a España's red leader's jersey on the Angliru, Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) has warned that the race is far from over. The 30-year-old Spaniard danced away from all his GC challengers to take a memorable stage win and in doing so established himself as the favourite to win the 2011 race, pushing former race leader Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) into third place overall.
“I'm thrilled, this is without a doubt the most fantastic day of my career," said Cobo in his post-stage press conference.
"It wasn't a climb well suited to my skills but right from the very first kilometres I felt like my legs were spinning well and so I decided to try the attack. I didn't know if I would be able to stick it out for the entire climb, the inclines on Angliru are gruelling, but metre after metre I felt my lead increasing and I gained confidence and found new energy to make it all the way to the finish line.
“I don't know how the Vuelta is going to end, we still have another week of racing ahead and the road to Madrid is still long. Tomorrow will be a rest day, it will be important for recuperating some energy. In the mean time I want to enjoy this victory, which was very important for me and all the team, and the joy of wearing the red jersey."
Cobo was aided by an experienced team on the stage. First, former Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre attacked on the penultimate climb, before launching another solo bid on the lower slopes of the Angliru. It was more than just a tactic born out of pure pragmatism. Sastre's brother-in-law José María Jiménez won on the climb in 1999 but passed away several years ago. It was a rare moment of sentimentality in a stage that will be remembered for its sheer brutality as some riders were reduced to almost tears as they battled the slopes.
However, Sastre’s legs aren’t what they once were and the aging climber was reeled in as the gradient began to bite. It paved the way for Cobo, who eased through the remnants of the leading group as if they were standing still. It was also Riis-esque, with Wiggins only able to mount a valiant challenge for few hundred meters.
Once Cobo had broken clear it was up to another teammate and former Grand Tour winner, Denis Menchov, to police the chase behind and the Russian even sneaked away to claim third on the stage.
“Everything went to perfection again today," said a satisfied Sports Director Joxean Fernandez Matxin. "The strategy worked as expected, but then it's hard to miss when you can count on riders like these, they're all proving to be exceptional. The idea was to control the race from the start until the beginning of the kicker on Angliru to then allow Cobo to unleash all his power and try an attack in the last three and a half kilometres.”
Despite today’s show of force today’s result was only Geox-TMC’s fourth win of the season, although admittedly all that will be forgotten if Cobo can hang on until Madrid.
"Since the beginning of the year we've known that we can count on a good team but for thousands of situations that happened until now we were never able to really show all our worth,” said Mauro Gianetti.