Joaquim Rodriguez extended his overall lead in the Tour of Spain on Sunday after finishing second behind Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert in the ninth stage.
Gilbert claimed his first win of the season when he broke away with red jersey wearer Rodriguez on the slopes of Montjuic Park during the 196.3 kms stage from Andorra to Barcelona. Italy’s Paolo Tiralongo claimed third.
Rodriguez heads into Monday’s rest day with a 53-second overall advantage over Chris Froome, while Alberto Contador trails one minute behind in third.
Stage 10 due to take place on Tuesday will continue to suit Rodriguez but it is Wednesday’s time trial that has him wary of losing time to his rivals.
“I’m fully expecting to lose a lot of time [during the time trial)]” Catalan-born Rodriguez told reporters.
“So I’ve got to keep chipping away as best I can in stages that suit me. Maybe it’ll be enough for me to get on the podium (in Madrid), or even win it.”
After enjoying a fruitful season in 2011 Gilbert has struggled with his form this year but he was pleased to silence some of his critics with a stage victory.
“Last year was my year and maybe I am paying for this because I was over my limit. I’m only human. It’s been the hardest year of my career but I never stopped believing in myself,” Gilbert said.
The race concludes on Sunday Sept. 9 in Madrid.