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Sky teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome finish 5th and 6th on stage 14 and put time into their GC rivals.
Sky captain faces Angliru test on Sunday
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) became the number one favourite to win this year's Vuelta with a valiant defence of his leader's red jersey on stage 14 to La Farrapona Lagos de Somiedo. The Sky leader distanced all his main rivals on the gruelling mountain stage to solidify his position on GC as the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) both lost time.
"I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record but my team were great again and I wouldn't be in this position without them," said Wiggins. "We are another day closer to the end now but tomorrow is a very hard stage. We will continue to fight all the way until the end and hopefully that will be enough to win this red jersey.
"I'm feeling good and I felt strong on the climb. It still hurts of course and it's certainly not easy but everybody else is hurting as well. This race is about who can suffer for the longest."
Wiggins went into the stage as the race leader but with a host of challengers within touching distance. The expected show down between the 31-year-old Briton and the likes of Nibali looked perfectly set as the group of favourites landed at the foot of the final climb.
At one point Wiggins and his super-domestique Chris Froome looked isolated as first Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) slipped clear. However, those attacks simply dislodged Nibali, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) from the lead group.
Froome took over the pace setting as the leading group thinned out even further.
While Cobo managed to gain time, and move to within a minute of Wiggins, only Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) managed to remain with Wiggins as every other GC rider struggled.
Tomorrow's stage to the top of the Angliru will be Sky's and Wiggins's biggest test.
"The Angliru is going to be extremely difficult, but as I said before, it is difficult for everyone and I will just have to fight all the way again," said Wiggins. "Gaining some time is a big boost for my confidence today and should make things a little bit easier."