Wiggins holds on to Vuelta lead in style on La Farrapona
Bradley Wiggins remains in the lead of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana for a fourth straight day after he and Sky team-mate Chris Froome made a ferociously strong defence of his top spot, whilst Froome is back in second overall.
The stage worked out almost perfectly for Wiggins and Froome, who gained time on all their immediate rivals, barring Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), who is now third at 36 seconds, and Juan Jose Cobo (Geox), who climbed four places to fourth overall and is now the big Spanish favourite, just 55 seconds back.
However, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), just four seconds back, has slid to 1-23 and seventh overall, Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) who was at 19 seconds has dropped to 58 seconds, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) has lost over a minute: of all four major mountain top finishes so far, the Farrapona is the one where Wiggins and Froome have impacted the most.
"It's a big step forward," Sky's sports director Servais Knaven told Cycling Weekly, "although Mollema is riding really well and Cobo moved up."
"There's a big uphill finish tomorrow on the Angliru, so it's not over by a long way."
"But it's better today than it was yesterday, and Bradley's confidence will have received a big boost."
"The whole team did really well, we believed in them and that's why we had the plan, and if you don't have the confidence to go for it, it never works."
"With two guys up there, too, we've still got two cards to play. Chris [Froome] is riding really impressively."
"It's been a very tough Vuelta, those high temperatures at the beginning have really had an effect, but it's going very well."
"It's going to be hard for Bradley and Chris tomorrow, but it's going to be hard for everybody."
Knaven pointed out that although the team knew that Wiggins was going strongly and so a good ride in the mountains had not been a huge surprise, it was never possible to know until the climb itself how strong his rivals would be in comparison.
Along with the whole team, Wiggins had thoughts throughout the day for Txema Gonzalez, the team assistant who died exactly one year ago today of a bacterial infection, saying on his Twitter feed before the start, "Today Team Sky remember the tragic death of Txema Gonzalez... whose memory will never be forgotten."
As for tomorrow, the Angliru stands as the biggest obstacle for Wiggins en route to Madrid and not for nothing is it known as the hardest single climb in Spain. But after today's performance, the Londoner's confidence in his climbing abilities must be higher than ever, too.