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BEJAR, Spain (VN) — Bradley Wiggins (Sky) took the Vuelta by the horns Sunday with a thrilling ride in the final kilometers of the Covatilla mountain stage, putting himself in the driver’s seat going into Monday’s time trial.
Wiggins, along with Sky teammate Chris Froome, churned up the final kilometers to take serious time on GC and to revive his overall hopes after losing time early in the Vuelta.
“Today had originally been about me trying to limit my losses as much as possible to guys like Van den Broeck and Rodriguez but I surprised myself,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t think I’d be as good as that, as it was the first all-out summit finish I’d done since the Dauphiné. Obviously Sierra Nevada came earlier this week but everyone canceled each other out a bit on there.”
Wiggins was a question mark coming into the Vuelta after his dramatic departure from the Tour de France with a broken clavicle in stage 9.
The British star entered the Vuelta without many racing miles in his legs, but he’s quickly proving that he’s back in fighting shape.
“I’m delighted with how things went and once I saw people were in difficulties behind I went into time trial mode and tried to take as much time off them as possible,” he said.
“Tomorrow is where I am expecting to make most of my gains and everything I earned here was a bonus. It was a fantastic finish and it couldn’t have gone any better.”
Wiggins was fourth on the stage to take some significant gains on his GC rivals and climbed to 13th overall at 1:00 back of new leader Bauke Mollema (Rabobank).
Wiggins is poised to surge into the leader’s jersey on Salamanca’s rolling 47km time trial course. Only Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack), at just 18 seconds ahead of him, could present a problem for a run at the leader’s jersey. Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) is a full 1:18 back, so Wiggins is poised to ride into the Vuelta’s leader’s jersey.
Wiggins was quick to thank his teammates for the work they’ve done in the first week of racing at the Vuelta.
“The team were brilliant again as well and Froomey is shining; he’s really come to the fore now and has proved his worth. It was phenomenal to see and the rest of the boys have not put a foot wrong all week,” he said. “I haven’t had to lift a finger and even though I’ve been nervous at times they coaxed me through it and put me in the right position when it’s mattered.”
‘Purito’ vows to keep fighting
Joaquim “Purito” Rodríguez admitted the obvious after the stage: The Vuelta leader couldn’t match the pace on the 18.2km Covatilla climb and crossed the line 25th at 50 seconds back.
“I didn’t have my best day today,” he said. “If today was my bad day, then I have to be satisfied with that because I didn’t lose too much time.”
Rodríguez also lost the jersey by one second when Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) took a second-place, 12-second time bonus.
After winning two hilltop finishes within the past week, his race leader’s jersey slowly began to unravel Sunday under intense pressure from Wiggins. Fighting alone against battering winds, Katusha teammate Dani Moreno finally caught up to help pace him in the final kilometers to the line.
“I didn’t expect to lose the jersey today,” Rodríguez said. “We will keep fighting. We’ve had a great start to the Vuelta, so maybe our efforts cost us a little. I hope to limit my losses tomorrow.”
The pressure will be on Rodríguez in Monday’s 47km time trial. On a similar course last year at Peñafiel, he most more than six minutes and sunk out of contention.
Just yesterday, Rodríguez was hoping he could limit his losses to less than three minutes. After Sunday’s hiccups, it could be a repeat of the same story from last year.
Zubeldia optimistic ahead of TT
Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) expressed optimism following his solid performance through the first week of the Vuelta.
Twice fifth in the Tour de France, the veteran Basque climber is emerging as RadioShack’s best GC hope in this Vuelta. Jani Brajkovic couldn’t match the pace, finishing 29th at 1:27 back, while Zubeldia finished ninth in a group at 12 seconds back.
Zubeldia goes into Monday’s 47km in ninth place overall at 42 seconds back.
“The last part of the climb was very open to the wind. It was important to try to stay hidden away as much as you could,” Zubeldia said. “I come to this Vuelta with a lot of motivation. Tomorrow we’ll see if we can keep things going in the right direction. The race is still very open. There is no clear favorite yet.”
Jerseys: Mollema takes over
Red: Bauke Mollema, a highly rated Dutch rider, earned a 12-second time bonus to slip into the lead by one-second to overnight leader Joaquím Rodríguez.
Mountains: Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) claimed 15 points at the summit to lead the KoM competition, 25-23, to Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r).
Points: Rodríguez keeps the points jersey, 74-62, to Mollema. Combined: Mollema leads the category.
Teams: Geox-TMC leads, tied with RadioShack, with Rabobank at one second back.
Jury decisions: Crackdown on illegal feeds
David Lelay (Ag2r), Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r), both 20-second time penalty, 200CHF for feed at 4km from finish line; DS Julien Jurdie fined 1,000CHF for same infraction.
Ivan Santaromita (BMC), 20-second penalty, fined 200CHF for feed at 6km from finish line; DS Rik Verbrugghe fine 1,000CHF for same infraction.
Pablo Lastras (Movistar), 20-second penalty; fined 200CHF for feed at 8km from finish; DS Jose Luis Arrieta fine 1,000CHF for same infraction.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), fined 200CHF for insulting a commissaire.
Peloton: Fischer KO’d by broken hand
Murilo Fischer (Garmin-Cervélo) did not start, with broken finger after a crash in stage 8; 185 riders remain in the Vuelta.
Weather: Gusting winds for TT
Forecasters are calling for clear skies, temperatures in low 30Cs, gusting southwesterly winds 15-30kph, with mostly headwinds on way out and tailwinds coming home.