Wiggins and Sky determined to keep on fighting in Vuelta
Bradley Wiggins and Ian Stannard, Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage 16
After a flattish couple of days in terms of morale, Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has started feeling more optimistic about the Vuelta and is now looking to see what he and team-mate Chris Froome can achieve in the last part of the race.
"There's a lot left to play for, I've realised that we've got a chance. I felt a bit pessimistic on Monday, but not any more," Wiggins said at the start of stage 18 of the Vuelta on Thursday.
With four stages remaining, Froome is 13 seconds back on Cobo, and if that gap remains the same it would be the fourth smallest margin ever in the Vuelta (the smallest for any Grand Tour was when Alberto Fernandez lost the Vuelta in 1984 to Erik Caritoux by six seconds).
However, neither Wiggins nor Froome nor their directors are prepared to sit up and let their opportunities to attack Cobo go by.
"We've got two cards to play, still, and we'll use them both," Servais Knaven, Sky's sports director, told Cycling Weekly.
"It's a very close finale, but we saw last year in the Vuelta where it was [winner Vincenzo] Nibali against [Ezequiel] Mosquera that that is pretty normal here. That came down to the second last stage."
"In fact, that's what you see more and more in Grand Tours. It's exciting."
"Froomey has never led a Grand Tour, but he's got a lot of experienced stage racing riders around him, not just Brad, but also Dario[Cioni], Xavier Zandio and [Thomas] Lofkvist."
"Yesterday was the best chance he had and he did it perfect, even if he didn't manage to win."
Asked if they would go on fighting for the time bonuses on the last - usually ceremonial - stage in Madrid if necessary, Knaven replied, "of course, if it's still possible, we will."
Today's last 10 kilometres of the course is flat, exposed and technical, running alongside the beach at Noja with a couple of very narrow right-hand corners. Fortunately it is still dry, which should reduce the risk of crashes and nor are there any dodgy deviations in the final kilometre, so there shouldn't be the same kind of confusion in the finale like there was with the roundabout in Haro.
Sandwiched between the first category climb of Alisas mid-stage and the finish are a couple of third category climbs which local journalist and former pro Enrique Cima rates as being "much more difficult than they say in the route book."
"They've downrated them to third category because they don't want this stage to look too hard," Cima told Cycling Weekly, "but in local races the climbs are classified as second category. If the first cat. climb causes the peloton to split, they could be important."
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Vuelta a Espana 2011: Stage reports
Stage 17: Froome wins Vuelta stage 17 but can't unseat Cobo from race lead
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 17 photo gallery
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