Thursday, August 02, 2012

Antón: "I'd sign up for the podium"

Igor Antón's experience with the Vuelta a España is a checkered one. He got his breakthrough there as a bright-eyed 23-year-old in 2006, triumphing solo atop Calar Alto to launch his carreer. He went on to experience heartbreak two years later, crashing out with the Angliru and an overall podium placing in sight. Two years later he won a pair of stages, looked unbeatable in the red leader's jersey before, again, going on to crash out of the race. Last year was the year of the most emotional of victories in downtown Bilbao, but it was a victory achieved only after failing spectacularly to live up to the billing as the number one favourite.

In less than three weeks' time he'll be back for a seventh time, this time around as a 29-year-old who's years are starting to run away from him if he's ever to win the race of his dreams. With a participation list including illustrious names like Contador, Rodríguez, Froome and Cobo, to name but a few, Antón, for so long touted as a future Grand Tour winner, says he'll be more than happy with a podium.

"Considering the riders likely to toe the start line, my goal is to be in contention for the top five", he told BiciCiclismo. "The final podium? I'd sign up for that right now. We'll see. Even if I do finish fifth, I'll be happy if I've given it my all. I'm really looking forward to the race. It's my seventh Vuelta, I've got bags of experience, some good experiences and some not so good, but I've always come through - including last year when I turned the race around (after a lacklustre start). Therefore I'm calm, and my goal is to go as far as I can".

The native of Galdakao is currently in action at the Vuelta a Burgos, where he's made everything but an encouraging start. In between finishing the Tour of Poland and embarking on the traditional Vuelta tune-up race, he did like Samuel Sánchez before the Tour de France and spent time at altitude in the Sierre Nevadas.

"I was there for ten days in total. The objective in Poland was to improve, and in that sense I'm happy with that race (he finished 29th overall). I then went to the Sierra Nevada to use the time before the Circuito de Getxo as best as I could and try to progress. I was actively recovering. There I could relax and do the last long workouts. It was good with a change of scenery and to be able to train in new surroundings. I'm not one for long rides, I'm more for quality of training, so my longest days in the saddle were five hours. We won't come across the longest stages in the Vuelta either."

Despite getting his Burgos campaign off to a subdued start, Antón is hoping to use the five-day event to hone his form for the big one later in August.

"The Vuelta a Burgos is, as I've always said, a perfect race for me, a good race to prepare for the Vuelta. You can put an effort in, but it doesn't need to be excessive. After Burgos I'll do the Clásica San Sebastián. I'll be there at 90 percent of my powers, and it'll be the last test before the Vuelta. I think I'm on a better lead-up that I was last year. My body feels better and the sensations are better, and that's surely because I didn't do the Giro. At this time last year, I wasn't at my best."

This year's recorrido, featuring a staggering seven official summit finishes, should be perfectly tailored to the characteristics of the rider affectionately known as "Fuji". He admits as much, but says there'll be bigger favourites lining up in Pamplona on August the 18th than himself.

"I think it's a good route for me, seeing as there'll only be 40 clicks of time trialling. It'll be all about ceding as little time as possible in the cronos and, above all, to be consistent. The differences are normally not very big in the Vuelta".

Talking to Marca, he ranked the returning Contador as the man most likely to triumph overall.

"He'll be the favourite, as he's the best at this time. It's also a plus for the race that he'll be lining up."


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