Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton proved that he was the main man to watch at the 2010 Vuelta a Espana by winning Wednesday’s 11th stage to the Pal ski station in Andorra, reclaiming the red leader’s jersey in the process and relegating overnight leader Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) to fourth place overall after he lost almost a minute en route to the summit finish.
It was a long day in the saddle for breakaway duo Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Française des Jeux’s Mikael Cherel, who maintained a slim advantage of two minutes – having had a lead of 15 minutes earlier in the stage – over the chasers as the race climbed up through Andorra La Vella with 15 kilometres left to go of the 208km-long stage.
The town was also the site of the day’s final intermediate sprint, with Tschopp and Cherel simply rolling through, trying to maintain their advantage. Garmin-Transitions’ Tyler Farrar was climbing well enough to grab the points available for third place towards the green points jersey – at the same time that green-jersey wearer Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) slipped off the back of the main group.
However, it is Anton who takes over the lead in the points competition, with Omega Pharma’s Philippe Gilbert in second place, and who will wear the jersey on Thursday’s 12th stage with Anton back in the red jersey.
As the road continued its relentless increase in grade heading towards the official start of the final climb with 10km to go, all the big-hitters’ teams remained close to the front, led by three-time Vuelta winner Denis Menchov’s Rabobank squad.
The similarly orange-clad Euskaltel-Euskadi team were easy to spot up there, too, hoping to get their man Anton back into the red leader’s jersey after Rodriguez had taken it from him the previous day by just two seconds. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), too, was hoping to make up his four-second deficit to Rodriguez.
But this close-fought race was about to have the gaps between its contenders widened.
Nibali tucked himself in on Rodriguez’s wheel as the Spaniard’s Katusha team continued to push the pace at the front of the main group, which continued to shed riders out of the back – one of those soon being Menchov, who found himself watching the race disappear up the road; clearly his Rabobank team-mates had put him too much in the red – and not the red jersey as he would have liked – in their efforts to catch the earlier break.
Back at the head of the race, Xacobeo’s Ezequiel Mosquera attacked, taking only Nibali and Rodriguez with him, while Anton and Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck – putting his brother Andy’s exclusion to the back of his mind – gave chase.
Schleck, however, couldn’t hold Anton’s wheel, and as the Spaniard inched closer to the leading trio, the elastic snapped for Rodriguez, with Anton all-but flying past him, digging deeper to pull back Nibali and Mosquera.
Nibali was next to go, but Mosquera remained in the lead with two kilometres to go, and looked as though he might fend off the now-flying Anton.
But Anton proved too strong, catching, and then attacking Mosquera just before the red kite signifying the start of the final kilometre before soloing to victory.
A fast-finishing Xavier Tondo (Cervélo TestTeam) took third, with Nibali and Schleck finishing together, losing 23 seconds to new leader Anton.
American Tom Danielson rode well, losing just 41 seconds on his way to 11th place, while Ag2r’s Irish leader Nicolas Roche was a further 10 seconds back in 13th and holds onto ninth place overall.
Rodriguez came in 59 seconds down in 17th position, and now sits fourth overall, with Nibali and Tondo jumping up to second and third, respectively, behind Anton – who could now prove to be quite tough to depose.
Tour of Spain 2010, stage 11: Vilanova i la Geltrú to Andorra (Pal), 208.4km
1. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel Euskadi 5-25-44
2. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo at 3sec
3. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo at 10sec
4. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Caisse d’Epargne at 15sec
5. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at same time
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 23sec
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at same time
8. David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis at same time
9. Inigo Cuesta (Spa) Cervélo at 32sec
10. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo at same time
Overall classification after stage 11
1. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel Euskadi in 47-37-15
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 45sec
3. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo at 1-04
4. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 1-17
5. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo at 1-29
6. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-57
7. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 2-07
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at 2-13
9. Nicolas Roche (Ire) Ag2r La Mondiale at 2-30
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at same time
Ezequiel Mosquera leads Joaquin Rodriguez and Vincenzo Nibali
Igor Anton takes the win
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Related links
Stage 10: Erviti takes Vuelta stage as Saxo Bank self destruct
Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage nine: Lopez wins demanding day at Vuelta from escape
Stage eight: Moncoutie takes the win as Anton moves into lead
Sky soigneur on Vuelta dies of bacterial infection
Stage seven: Petacchi wins stage seven
Stage six: Hushovd demonstrates climbing skills on way to Vuelta win
Stage five: Farrar beats Cavendish for Vuelta stage win
Stage four: Anton wins stage but Gilbert keeps red jersey
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Gilbert attacks to win stage and take race lead
Stage two: Hutarovich beats Cavendish to Vuelta stage win
Vuelta stage one: Cavendish leads after HTC-Columbia win team time trial
The British riders to have led one of the grand tours
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index