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Worlds favorites Gilbert, Martin exit Vuelta

ANDORRA, Spain (VN) — Defending world champions Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) both abandoned an ever-extreme Vuelta a España ahead of title defenses later this month.

This Vuelta served both riders well. Gilbert won a stage to salvage his rainbow season, while Martin uncorked a solo effort that fell just 15 meters short of victory.

Both leave the Spanish team with revived hopes of defending world titles. Gilbert bubbled back up to favorite status after a frustrating season, while Martin will take aim at a time trial hat trick.

“It was extremely cold yesterday and I was still a little bit cold this morning, so I didn’t want to risk anything for the worlds,” Gilbert said. “I also decide before the Vuelta I was only doing two weeks, and if it was perfect, a bit more. So it’s no surprise to me or the team.”

Gilbert salvaged a near blank season in the rainbow with a stage victory at Tarragona, where he out-kicked Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) to win for the first and only time in the world champion stripes.

The Belgian suffered a heavy crash in the Eneco Tour just ahead of the Vuelta, resulting in stitches in his knee, and he nearly didn’t start the grand tour. Gilbert suffered through the opening stages and snagged a morale-boosting win.

Martin, meanwhile, did not win a stage during this Vuelta, but he posted a heroic solo breakaway into Cáceres at the end of the first week that won him more accolades than his two world time trial titles.

Martin bolted free of the pack early and held off a concerted chase, only to be caught at the line. Also exiting the race was stage-winner and Martin’s teammate Zdenek Stybar.

“After the hard stage yesterday, [Martin] didn’t want to run any risks,” Omega Pharma sport director Rick Van Slycke said. “His big goals are the team time trial and the individual time trial, and he didn’t want to risk getting sick.”

Martin finished second to Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) in Wednesday’s hilly time trial, but will line up later this month as the favorite on a flat course to win his third straight title.

Cancellara, the one rider who could square off against both in each respective discipline, remains in the Vuelta. At least for now.

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