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Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is surprised as anyone about how well his Vuelta a España is going.
With a stage victory and the leader’s jersey, the Basque climber is enjoying his moment in the Spanish spotlight. During a rest day press conference Monday, Antón played down his chances of winning the overall.
“I don’t want to get carried away and think about winning. I want to enjoy this moment, because the truth is I feel very good,” Antón told journalists. “The Vuelta is very long and the hardest days are yet to come, so it will be complicated to try to keep the leader’s jersey.”
Antón narrowly took the leader’s jersey Saturday despite being tied on time with Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha). Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is just two seconds back in a very tight GC table at the halfway point of the 2010 Vuelta.
Without an individual time trial to set the tie-breaker with fractions of seconds, race judges based the GC on best accumulative results in each stage so far, tipping the scale in Antón’s favor.
Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Height: 5 feet, 6 inches
Weight: 130 lbs
Major pro wins:
1st Stage 16 Vuelta a España
1st Escalada a Montjuïc
7th overall Tour de Romandie
1st stage 4, Tour de Romandie
8th overall Vuelta a España
3rd overall Tour de Suisse
1st stage 2, Tour de Suisse
1st Subida a Urkiola
1st stage 4 Vuelta a España
2nd overall Vuelta a Castilla y León
1st stage 3, Vuelta a Castilla y León
2nd Klasika Primavera
4th La Flèche Wallonne
10th overall Tour de Romandie
Rodríguez was angry Saturday because officials later annulled a hot sprint early in the stage when he won a two-second time bonus to break the deadlock. Rodríguez also thought he opened up enough of a gap on Antón at the finish line Saturday at Xorret de Catí to take the jersey outright.
Euskaltel-Euskadi did just enough Sunday to keep Antón in the leader’s jersey after French rider Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega-Lotto) snuck away in the day’s main breakaway and rode into the virtual leader’s jersey. The Basques hammered away late to keep their man in red while Peraud, a mountain bike silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, climbed to fifth overall at 52 seconds back.
Antón says he doesn’t want to get too carried away, especially with the hardest climbs still ahead in what’s been a very hot and difficult opening half of the 65th edition of the Spanish tour.
“I want to maintain the good sensations that I have now and maybe I can open up some differences in Andorra (on Wednesday),” Antón explained. “This is like a dream come true to have the leader’s jersey of a grand tour. My team is really supporting me, like the effort they put in (Sunday). I want to take it one day at a time, because this Vuelta is truly difficult.”
Antón said he was surprised to see Denis Menchov (Rabobank) lose two minutes on the stage over Catí on Saturday, but said Rodríguez isn’t his most dangerous rival.
“Nibali looks very strong. I think he’s the favorite to win the Vuelta,” Antón said. “Schleck will get better as the race progresses and no one’s talking about (Xavier) Tondo. He’s very close (4th at 42sec) and he’s won a Tour of Portugal.”
(Related: Watch a video interview with Tondo on CompetitorTV )
The 65th Vuelta clicks back into gear Tuesday for the 175km 10th stage from Tarragona to Vilanova I la Geltrú. The sprinters will have a hard go of it, because the course tackles the short but steep Alto de Rat Penat, with ramps as steep as 23 percent, at 30km to go.