Briton Chris Froome (Sky) underlined his newly-found grand tour credentials by winning the 2011 Vuelta a Espana’s final mountain-top finish on Pena Cabarga on Wednesday.
Froome started the day in second place in the overall classification behind local man Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) with a deficit of just 22 seconds. Froome launched a last-ditch attempt to overthrow Cobo with an attack in the stage’s final kilometre.
Although he couldn’t distance the Spaniard, Froome surged to the line to take his first grand tour stage win. Thanks to the winner’s time bonus, he now lies a tantalising 13 seconds behind Cobo overall with just four stages of the race remaining.
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) came over the line in third at 21 seconds to consolidate his fourth place overall.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) came 12th, 39 seconds adrift of Froome and held on to his third place overall setting up the prospect of two British riders on the podium in Madrid on Sunday.
Final mountain top finish
Several escape groups had gone clear earlier in the stage, but all had been reeled in by the time the race reached the long, winding downhill from the top of Portillo de Lunada, the second of two categorised climbs included in the stage.
Cobo’s Geox-TMC team rode aggressively at the front, ensuring that the pace was kept sufficiently high in an attempt to dissuade any further attackers. At the base of the final climb, it was Katusha that hit the front of the bunch.
Stage nine winner Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) attacked with 5km to go as the contenders group was whittled down behind. Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) rode up to join him, followed by Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) in the final three kilometres.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) then attacked the bunch to climb past the three escapees but all were caught by the chasing bunch as the road reared up.
Just as they hit the final kilometre mark, Cobo hit out followed by Froome. The Brit then immediately attacked and dropped Cobo.
The Spaniard didn’t panic, and rode back up to Froome in an attempt to win the stage. But Froome put everything into the final few metres to pass Cobo and take a well-deserved win.
On Thursday, the race runs from Solares to Noja on another mountainous day. However, the stage’s final peak is too far from the finish to give Froome any chance of gaining time on his rival for the overall win.
Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage 17: Faustino V to Pena Cabarga, 211km
1. Chris Froome (GB) Sky
2. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC at 1 sec
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 21 secs
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Cervelo at 24 secs
5. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 27 secs
6. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 27 secs
7. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar at 29 secs
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 31 secs
9. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at 31 secs
10. Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at 35 secs
12. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at 39 secs
Overall classification after stage 17
1. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC
2. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 13 secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at 1-41
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 2-05
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC at 3-48
6. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard-Trek at 4-13
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 4-31
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 4-45
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 5-20
10. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 5-33
Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome
Chris Froome wins the stage
Juan Jose Cobo leads the GC by just 13 seconds over Froome
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Vuelta a Espana 2011
: Stage reports
Stage 16: Haedo wins confusing stage 16 finish in Vuelta
Stage 15: Wiggins loses race lead as Cobo stakes claim for overall on Angliru
Stage 14: Taaramae takes stage as Wiggins puts time into rivals
Stage 13: Albasini wins Vuelta stage 13 as Wiggins hangs on to lead
Stage 12: Sagan takes second 2011 Vuelta stage win
Stage 11: Wiggins takes overall lead as Moncoutie wins stage
Stage 10: Brit Froome moves into overall Vuelta lead after time trial
Stage nine: Martin wins as Wiggins moves further up GC
Stage eight: Rodriguez wins again to take overall lead
Stage seven: Kittel wins chaotic bunch sprint
Stage six: Sagan takes Vuelta stage win in controversial circumstances
Stage five: Rodriguez takes second win for Katusha but Chavanel holds on
Stage four: Moreno wins first mountain skirmish at Sierra Nevada
Stage three: Lastras solos to stage and takes red jersey
Stage two: Sutton grabs stage win to set things right for Sky
Stage one: Leopard-Trek win opening TTT to put Fuglsang in front
Vuelta a Espana 2011: Photo galleries
By Graham Watson
Stage 16 photo gallery
Stage 15 photo gallery
Stage 14 photo gallery
Stage 13 photo gallery
Stage 12 photo gallery
Stage 11 photo gallery
Stage 10 photo gallery
Stage nine photo gallery
Stage eight photo gallery
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
Vuelta a Espana 2011: TV guide
Vuelta a Espana 2011: ITV4 TV schedule
Vuelta a Espana 2011: British Eurosport TV schedule
ITV to show 2011 Vuelta