Months before his HTC-Highroad team are due to fold, Michael Albasini of Switzerland notched up another victory for the most successful team of this year with a sprint win in the 13th stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Friday.
At the end of an arduous, 158km stage through the mountains of northwest Spain, the Swiss all-rounder outpowered Italy’s Eros Capecchi and Spain’s Dani Moreno from a large breakaway group to claim his third and the team’s 51st win of the year.
Briton Bradley Wiggins retained the overall race lead for the third day, though his advantage was more than halved.
Albasini told reporters his victory proved that HTC-Highroad, known as the team of British sprinter Mark Cavendish, were not just a one-man squad.
“Cycling fans already know that, and the fact we all have contracts [elsewhere] for next year proves it as well,” Albasini said. “We’ve already had one win here [with Germany’s Tony Martin], but now I’ve got one as well and we will keep on fighting right the way to the end. It’s sad that the team is ending but we’re all professionals.”
Albasini said that the biggest obstacle in Friday’s stage had been a tough, first-category climb, the Ancares, mid-way through.
“Once I was over that, I knew I’d be okay. I was confident I would be the fastest in a sprint. It was difficult, though, to keep everybody under control. I just had to stay calm,” he said.
Wiggins’s lead over Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali was slashed when Nibali earned a six-second bonus in the first hour of racing. He ended the day four seconds behind the Sky rider. Wiggins teammate Chris Froome of Britain was lying third, seven seconds down.
Nibali sheered off the front on the twisting descent of Ancares in a group of nine riders, but after a relentless, 20km pursuit, Wiggins’s team caught up.
“I was a bit cautious on the descent, I knew they weren’t going to stay away and at that point, to be honest, I didn’t really care,” Wiggins said. “It’s fantastic I’ve got the jersey for another day and I’ll go on fighting, but I’m not going to get stressed about it.”