Igor Anton gave the Basques what they wanted when he won the 19th stage of the Vuelta a España this afternoon.
For the first time since 1978, the race which started without HTC rider Tony Martin, was back in Basque country, thanks to ETA laying down their arms and pledging to use politics to further their cause of independence and heading from Noja to Bilbao.
Joaquin Rodriquez took the first sprint on a very wam afternoon at Laredo after 19.7 kms before a four man break went away.
A couple of Basques in Igor Anton and Vedugo from the Basque based team Eustkatel were in the break along with Marzio Bruseghin who was only 9:58 back on the General Classification and seventeenth in the race.
The Vacansoleil rider took the climb at Puerto de la Granja after 42km but was not in the top three for the next climb at Puerto de las Muñecas, some eighteen kilometres later but he did a get a second at the third climb at Alto El Vivero.
The four at the front were cheered by big crowds as they got into Bilbao for the first of two laps whilst Ian Stannard, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins led the peloton who were three and a half minutes back.
The peloton was a hundred and six seconds back when Bruseghin won the second intermediate sprint of the day in the centre of Bilbao.
Igor Anton attacked and left the other three to drift back towards the peloton which had Wiggins on the front, followed by Froome and race leader JJ Cobo.
Anton was first over the Alto El Vivero after 144.2 km but on the slopes,.Chris Froome tried to attack. The Team Sky rider gave it everything he had but Cobo stuck to his wheel.
With five kilometres to go, Anton was thirty five seconds ahead of Bruseghin. ninety one seconds ahead of Chris Anker Sorensen and two minutes ahead of the peloton.
No-one was going to catch Igor Anton and the Basques got the result they wanted as he won in a time of 3hr 53 mins and 34 seconds.
Bruseghin was second with Nerz third. The group containing Wiggins, Froome and Cobo finished a minute and thirty six seconds later. Daniel Martin was 13th with Nicholas Roche 14th.
Cobo keeps his leaders jersey by thirteen seconds from Chris Froome and a minute and 41 seconds from Bradley Wiggins.
Speaking after the race, Froome said to lavuelta.com: “We did everything we could. We rode up fast all day. Thomas Löfkvist set up the pace till the climb, Bradley (Wiggins) helped me and I attacked but Cobo responded well. He didn’t show any weakness. I had a few looks at him but all the time, he was on my wheel. He deserves to keep the lead. But the Vuelta isn’t over yet. It won’t be over until we get over the finishing line in Madrid. There are bonuses on the way. There are bonuses on the finishing lines. I’ll fight for the red jersey till the very end. I’ve been impressed by the crowd today. It was amazing how many people on that climb. It’s nice to see Anton winning on his own land. It must be really special. I’m very happy for him.”
The penultimate stage 20 is from Bilbao to Vitoria and is 185 kms long.
Pictures copyright of Tour Of Spain/Graham Watson