Spanish rider Igor Anton took the overall leader’s red jersey after the first mountainous stage of the tragedy-hit Vuelta a Espana on Saturday which was won by France’s David Moncoutie.
Moncoutie of Cofidis finished the eighth stage of the race, a 190km ride from Villena to Xorret de Cati that included five mountain passes, in 5 hours, 14 minutes and 32 seconds, 54 seconds ahead of nearest rival Serafin Martinez of Spain, but the stage took place against a somber background.
A minute’s silence was observed before the start in memory of Team Sky masseur Txema Gonzalez, who died in hospital in Seville on Friday, five days after he was taken to hospital suffering from a bacterial infection that developed into sepsis.
Team Sky pulled out of the Vuelta in the wake of his death and Anton dedicated his red jersey win to the 43-year-old.
“This is the only decision which we could have taken. It is the right decision, to show our respect to Txema,” the British team’s principal, Dave Brailsford, said.
On Saturday, the 35-year-old Moncoutie was part of a small group that broke away early in the stage, but after the final climb the breakaway group split apart and he was able to outride his rivals to be the first across the finish line.
“I hope to be one of the best climbers of this Vuelta,” Moncoutie said.
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert, who had held the red jersey since the third stage, was involved in an early tumble which allowed Anton, who finished the stage in seventh place, to take over the overall lead.
“I am surprised. If I did not become the leader, it would not be a trauma,” Anton said. “I am not obsessed now with being the leader. You have to work hard, the Vuelta is long.”
The ninth stage takes the riders 187.7km from Calpe to Alcoy and includes a third category climb just 7km from the finish line.
The 21-stage Vuelta a Espana, which began with a team time trial through the streets of Seville, wraps up in Madrid on Sept. 19.
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