Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) enjoyed the emotions of pulling on the Vuelta a Espana red race leader’s jersey atop the Montaña Manzaneda on Wednesday, less than eight weeks after thinking his season was in tatters after crashing hard and fracturing his collarbone during stage seven of the Tour de France.
Yet the Briton never lost his focus and motivation and now leads the Vuelta by seven seconds from teammate Chris Froome, with main rival and 2010 Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) third at 11 seconds.
"I didn't really expect to be in this position, coming here off such a bad crash," Wiggins said in the press conference after pulling on the red jersey.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to be leading the Vuelta. I just enjoyed today. I’m pleased. I’ve been very consistent in the last few days. I’ve been very strong in the last two mountain stages and the time trial. As I was coming back from an injury, I didn’t know how it was gonna be but it’s getting better and better.”
Sticking to the team plan
After Chris Froome took the red jersey after the time trial, there was a question about who Team Sky would ride for and if a double leadership strategy would tire the team. Wiggins made it clear he was the team leader with his strong ride on the 19km climb up to Estación de Montaña Manzaneda and explained the team’s strategy.
“For me to take the jersey after Chris Froome was always going to happen,” he said. “We put the whole team on the front. Had I been fifth or sixth on GC, we would have done it the same way. We stuck to the plan after the time trial. Chris had a brilliant time trial and that put him in the lead and that was his bonus. But we weren't about to change the plan. I came here for GC and Chris was again fantastic for me. That’s what makes this team special.”
Wiggins knows he can use his power at threshold to keep the attacks from the pure climbers under control. They may jump away and accelerate but he closes the gap with a gradual but high-speed effort.
“It was just the case of keeping the pace fast,” he explained. “When I ride at threshold like that on a climb like this one today, not many guys can attack me. Rodríguez can and maybe Nibali. But I was confident at the foot that everything would be ok.”
Wiggins faces the test of two more mountain finishes and several other tough stages in the Basque Country and little known roads of northern Spain. However he is ready to defend the race lead all the way to Madrid.
“When I came to the Vuelta, I was hoping to finish in the top six and the podium was a dream but now we’ll see what happens. There are two or three difficult mountain stages that will decide this Vuelta, there are time bonuses as well and it's not over at all. I'll give it 100 percent to take this lead all the way to Madrid."