Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) has bounced back from two difficult days at the Vuelta a España and seems ready to race hard all the way to Madrid to defend his third place and possible help teammate Chris Froome try to topple race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC).
Wiggins lost 38 seconds to Cobo on the stage 17 finish atop Peña Cabarga. His third place overall seems secure but he is 1:41 down on Cobo. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) is fourth overall, 24 seconds further back.
"I think I was a bit mentally switched off. After the Angliru, it's been a bit difficult. These last two months have hit me a bit and I felt a bit deflated," Wiggins explained before today's 18th stage from Solares to Noja.
"It felt like it was over on Monday. But I feel better now because I've realised the Vuelta is not over and there's a few days to go."
Exactly two months ago today, Wiggins crashed out of the Tour de France after breaking his collarbone on a high speed descent. He had a plate fitted to his collarbone and was off the bike for a week. He worked hard to come back from his crash to be fit for the Vuelta but knew that his Vuelta preparation had not been perfect.
"It's difficult to remember that when you're doing it," he said. "Three weeks ago I'd have accepted third place overall with just three days to go. But fortunately there are also a lot of other good things to take from the race, such as the way I've been climbing. It's been a good experience."
No problem with Froome
There has been a lot of public debate about Team Sky's race strategy at the Vuelta after Froome performed better than Wiggins in the Salamanca time trial. Froome continued to help Wiggins until the final two kilometres of the Angliru stage and went close to regaining the race lead with his powerful attack on the Peña Cabarga climb.
There is no sign of tension between Wiggins and Froome on the race, even if it has still to be confirmed if Froome will stay at Team Sky in 2012. Wiggins has praised Froome on his performances via Twitter and Froome has always praised his teammates for their support.
"Nobody expected Chris to do what he's done in the last three weeks. After the time trial perhaps there was a thought that we'd go with Chris but I don’t think anyone knew what he could do," Wiggins said.
"I think he's shocked himself this week. He's gone from what he'd done in his career in the past to doing what he did yesterday. All of that in just two and a half weeks.
"Cycling is not logical and so we stuck to a game plan: that of me doing the GC. Things do change and roles change and that's put us in the position we're in now."
Despite crashing out of the Tour de France and racing hard at the Vuelta, Wiggins' season will not end in Madrid on Sunday. He will ride both the time trial and the road race at the world championships in Copenhagen and keep racing through to the Giro di Lombardia on October 15.
"I'm going to keep focused for the world championships after the worlds, and even keep it going right through to Lombardia. I want to do my bit for our ProTour ranking," he said.