Six days ago David Moncoutié suffered a heart-wrenching disappointment on stage eight of the Vuelta; caught and passed by Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) less than a kilometre from the line at Alto de Aitana. Today, the Cofidis rider made up for that, as he soloed to a superb victory in Sierra Nevada and scooped maximum mountain classification points in the process.
The popular Frenchman has a number of important victories in his career, including two stages in the Tour de France. At last year's Vuelta he won a stage and took the mountains jersey, setting a template which he hopes to follow once again on Spanish roads.
"The strategy was clear," a clearly elated Moncoutié said at the finish. "First, it was looking for some points for the mountains jersey. But when we saw that Joaquim Rogriguez was in the group, it was not so easy. So we decided to attack again. Rein Taaramae did a fantastic job for me, I then made the effort for the final two climbs and kept going until the finish."
Moncoutié's success came after he forged ahead as part of a large group of riders, immediately after the start in Berja. As the group pulled steadily clear he collected top points at each of the primes, nabbing a total of 74 and ending the day with 160 to David De La Fuente's 83. Barring accident, he looks almost certain to win that classification in Madrid on Sunday.
Yet it was the stage win that brought the most satisfaction this evening, particularly after his agonising defeat to Cunego.
"I thought about that a few times during the stage," he said. "Cunego caught me very, very close to the finish there. But today I made a big effort to have a better advantage and I was well ahead at the end. I was able to relax in the final two kilometres and enjoy the victory."
Moncoutié's pro career began with Cofidis in 1997 and he has stayed with the team ever since. In that time he's taken a number of important results, including stages of the Dauphiné Libéré, Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour de l'Avenir, fourth in Paris-Nice, third in the Volta a Catalunya and Criterium International and sixth in the Dauphiné. Aside from the mountains jersey in last year's Vuelta, he's also twice been best climber in Paris-Nice.
The plan this year was to take the polka-dot jersey in the Tour de France, but that didn't work out. In fact, his Tour in general was a disappointment. He was only 58th overall, with a best stage placing of 38th. "I can't really explain what happened in the Tour," he said. "I was sick before, I fell twice, and it just didn't work out. I was disappointed with that and so I am happy to ride well in this Vuelta - it is going well for me."
Because of that, he's considering using the opportunity to go out on top. Now 34, Moncoutié is considering retirement and said that he will make his mind up this week.
"I am thinking a lot about it at the moment," he said. "There are mornings when I wake up and I think it's a good time to stop. For example, retiring with the mountains jersey in Madrid would be special. Then there are others days when I think to myself that I love cycling and that perhaps I will do another year. I haven't decided yet, I will make up my mind soon."
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