Rabon rips TT, takes Murcia lead

Czech rider Frantisek Rabon (HTC-Columbia) wins the individual time trial at the Vuelta a Murcia.

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On a day when many were expecting one of the Tour de France favorites to put down a winning ride, Czech rider Frantisek Rabon (HTC-Columbia) rode away with victory in Saturday’s individual time trial at the Vuelta a Murcia — and most likely the overall title, too.

Pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins (Sky) would only muster the day’s third-fastest time while Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) rode to eighth in his first major time trial of the 2010 season at 1:18 off Rabon’s winning time.

Rabon covered the 22km course in 25 minutes, 10 seconds, to win the stage and move comfortably into the overall lead with only one relatively easy stage remaining in the five-day race across Spain’s arid Murcia region.

Stopping the clock for second place was Denis Menchov (Rabobank), the defending Murcia champion and 2009 Giro d’Italia winner, who rode well at 33 seconds off the pace. Wiggins was third fastest at 48 seconds slower with Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) fourth at 52 seconds slower. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions) was 10th at 1:23 slower.

The stage was a preview of what to expect later in the season from some Tour de France hopefuls. It was fifth-year pro Rabon who had the early season winning form.

The 26-year-old Czech rider is no slouch in the time trial, however. He won a similar TT stage in last year’s Murcia tour as well as the taking the flowers in the opening prologue of last year’s Tour de Romandie. He was third in last year’s TT stage at Critérium International and just missed overall victory, two seconds shy of winner Jens Voigt.

Overnight leader Josep Jufre (Astana) rode to ninth at 1:21 back and slipped to fifth.

Rabon is in the driver’s seat going into Sunday’s 121.1km finale, which favors a bunch sprint. Rabon leads Menchov by 38 seconds, with Wiggins slotting into third at 53 seconds back. Armstrong is seventh overall at 1:23 off the pace.

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