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PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — A Vuelta a España that just keeps pouring it on will get even harder this weekend for a pair of brutal summit finishes that should all but crown the eventual 2011 winner.
The new climb at Farrapona awaits Saturday and the Angliru looms on Sunday. Friday’s 13th stage over the Cat. 1 Puerto de Ancares was just a preview of what’s in store this weekend.
The bumpy 158.2km course produced a big, 20-man breakaway that included a handful of GC riders hoping to revive their chances, including Chris-Anker Sorensen, Dani Moreno, Nicholas Roche and 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre, who clawed back 1:33 for their efforts.
Michael Albasini won out of the break to score a second stage win in this Vuelta for HTC-Highroad in its final grand tour while Bradley Wiggins (Sky) fended off some attacks over the Ancares to carry his red jersey into this weekend.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) proved he’s primed for the fight, picking up six seconds in mid-race time bonuses to pull within four seconds of Wiggins and attacking over the Ancares.
This Vuelta couldn’t be any tighter. The top 6 on GC are separated by just 36 seconds.
Wiggins under the gun
Wiggins saw his grip on the red jersey come under attack from Nibali on two fronts. First, the defending champion took back six seconds in a bonus sprint at the day’s first intermediate sprint and then he attacked on the descent off Ancares.
Fredrik Kessiakoff, Jakob Fuglsang and Bauke Mollema, all GC rivals within 36 seconds of Wiggins’ red tunic, joined Nibali.
Though isolated briefly, Sky stepped up and helped chased down the group to keep the British star in red — now just by four seconds.
Oddly, Wiggins didn’t seem too worried about it when he spoke with reporters at the finish line.
“I’m pretty relaxed about how things went today and it was another good performance from the team,” Wiggins said. “Yes, Nibali made up six seconds by attacking on that first descent and winning the sprint, but I didn’t see the point in wasting energy unnecessarily and taking big risks just to try and defend a few seconds.”
Nibali often uses his descending skills to open up gaps on his rivals, but it’s a tactic that sometimes angers others in the peloton who feel that the strong descenders put the larger group at risk.
Riders were upset in Córdoba when Nibali and Liquigas attacked coming off a second-category climb late in the stage, putting four green jerseys into the five-man winning group.
Wiggins didn’t openly criticize Nibali, but he said that this weekend’s climbing stages should settle things.
“Fair credit to him for having a go, but I don’t think the race will have been won or lost today — the time gains or losses in the mountains days to come are going play a much bigger role in how this race is decided,” he said “I’m really happy to still be in the jersey though, and it’s a huge honor to be able to pull it on each morning and as I’ve said before, we’ll be doing all we can to defend it to Madrid.”
Saturday’s stage: Farrapona looms
The 66th Vuelta a España continues Saturday with the 175km 14th stage from Astorga to the Farrapona summit in Asturias.
The route opens with a flat, 100km approach to the first of three climbs at the Cat. 2 Puerto de Ventana at 111.1km. A steep, 1,100-meter descent brings the pack to the base of the short but very steep, Cat. 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo at 142km.
The final climb up Farrapona was only recently paved to allow the Vuelta to finish atop the steep summit deep in the Cantabrian range.
“Anything can happen in these two stages,” said Sastre, who climbed into 25th after being in Friday’s break. “The efforts of the past two weeks are catching up to everyone. Anyone who has a good day can really explode the race.”