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Anton wins Vuelta stage; Cobo mantains lead

Updated: September 09, 2011, 13:27

The pack ride during the 158.5kilometers (98.1-mile) 19th stage of the Spanish Vuelta cycling race in Laredo, Spain, Friday Sept. 9, 2011.(AP Photo/Juan Manuel Serrano Arce)

BILBAO, Spain (AP) Spain's Juan Jose Cobo kept the overall lead at the Spanish Vuleta and countryman Igor Anton won the 19th stage Friday when the cycling classic returned to Basque country after a 33-year absence.

Anton, who rides for Euskaltel-Euskadi, finished the 99-mile course from Noja to Bilbao alone in 3 hours, 53 minutes, 34 seconds for the Basque team's first stage victory.

Cobo remained 13 seconds in front of Britain's Christopher Froome in a race that ends Sunday with a traditional finish in Madrid.

The Vuelta had not run in Basque country since 1978 because of political unrest tied to the separatist group ETA. The group announced a cease fire in January, opening the way for the race to return to this northern part of Spain.

Anton, who had won three stages in previous editions of the event, called this the biggest victory of his career.

"It is incredible to win here in front of my family and friends. I never would have imagined it,'' Anton said. "The fans have helped me a lot. After 33 years, it's very important for the team.''

Froome tried to break away late, but Cobo latched onto his wheel and both finished 1:33 behind Anton in a pack of 20 riders.

"We knew (Froome) was going to attack on the last uphill climb, but I felt good and responded,'' Cobo said.

Britain's Bradley Wiggins, Froome's Sky teammate, , stayed 1:41 behind. The rest of the race favorites are more than two minutes off Cobo's pace.

On Saturday, the riders face a decisive a 115-mile course from the northern coastal town to the Basque capital of Vitoria.

"(The win) is only one step away, but it is a huge step,'' Cobo said. "We'll have to see how we prepare for the attacks by Sky.''

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