American Levi Leipheimer (Astana) won his second stage of the 63rd Vuelta a Espa¤a by taking victory in the 17.1km mountain time trial to the Alto de Navacerrada. The former US champion beat his team-mate and overall race leader Alberto Contador by 31 seconds with Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) finishing just slower than Contador for third place. ‘I never thought to take back 1’17” on Alberto, but I really wanted this stage victory’, a delighted Levi Leipheimer said in Navacerrada. ‘I won two stages. Alberto did the same. We are one and two on the Vuelta a Espa¤a podium. We showed that we are the strongest team in the world. In the overall GC I am 46″ behind Alberto, exactly the time he took with time bonuses on me.’
Early on, the fastest time was set by Christophe Kern (Credit Agricole), 19th man off and his time stood until 73rd man Nikita Eskov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) managed to best it by just 7 seconds. Eskov’s lead didn’t stand for long though, as 3 riders later, it was Jose Ruiz (Andalucia-Cajasur) went one second faster. From that point on, the lead changed rapidly with Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto), Evgeny Petro (Tinkoff Credit Systems) and then Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) going quicker.
As the overall favorites were setting off, the fastest time continued to fall until Leipheimer, the penultimate rider, blitzed all the intermediate checkpoints taking 21 seconds off the 9km checkpoint time of previous fastest Sandy Casar (Franaise des Jeux). 3km later, at the second checkpoint, Leiphemer was then 34 seconds ahead of Valverde with most of the climb still left to do.
With his lead of just 1’17” on Leipheimer, Vuelta race leader Contador could not afford to lose too much time to his speedy Yankee teammate. At the first checkpoint Contador passed through in second place behind Leipheimer, 11 seconds back, and by the second checkpoint up the Alto de Navacerrada after 12km, he had held on and still trailed Leipheimer by the same deficit. However, a brilliant Leipheimer rode 20″ faster than his teammate Contador on the remainder of the climb up the Alto de Navacerrada and Contador ended up losing 31″ behind the flying American, but managed to hold on to his gold jersey and the Vuelta race lead. Valverde rode the climb marginally faster than Leipheimer but finished on the same time as Contador and moved up two places on gc to fifth with his fast TT ride.
Alberto Contador explained post stage in Navacerrada: ‘I didn’t have super legs in the beginning of the time trial. So from then on, I decided not to race for the stage win, but to consolidate my leader’s position in the general classification. I am proud to?probably-win this Tour of Spain. Since we knew in February not to be able to ride the Tour de France, this Vuelta became the main objective of the season. It caused a lot of stress, but when you accomplish the job, it provokes an undescribable feeling. Let’s hope that in tomorrow’s last stage nothing happens so that we can give our sponsors another big victory.’
The other big overall classification battle on Stage 20 was between Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) and Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia) for the third step of the podium. Sastre held a lead of just 54 seconds over Mosquera going into the stage, and while Mosquera had a superb ride up the Alto de Navacerrada climb, the experienced Sastre finished 13 seconds ahead of the Xacobeo-Galicia man and secured his Vuelta third place.
Contador, barring accident, has assured his victory with just tomorrow’s final stage into Madrid to come. With this win the 25-year-old Spaniard becomes the first rider since Bernard Hinault to have won all three Grand Tours, and becomes only the third rider after Eddy Merckx and Giovanni Battaglin to have won the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espa¤a in the same year. Riding his first Grand Tour, young Rabobanker Robert Gesink was 9th up the Navacerrada and slipped to 7th on gc, still a great ride for the emerging talent. Vuelta a Espa¤a’s best climber David Moncouti (Cofidis) was fifth on the climbing TT and moved past Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Egoi Martinez into 8th, while Italian Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) powered into 10th on GC past Gerolsteiner’s Oliver Zaugg.
Saturday, September 20
Stage 20: La Granja de San Ildefonso-Alto de Navacerrada ITT / 17.1km
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana / 33’06” (31.0 km/hr avg. speed)
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana @ :31″
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne @ same time
4. Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC-Saxo Bank @ 1’02”
5. David Moncouti (Fra) Cofidis-Le Crdit par Tlphone @ 1’09”
6. Ezequiel Mosquera Miguez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia @ 1’15”
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne @ 1’16”
8. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre @ 1’31”
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank@ 1’37”
10. Andreas Klden (Ger) Astana @ 1’57”
63rd Vuelta a Espa¤a General Classification after Stage 20:
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana / 77h55’29”
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana @ 46″
3. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC-Saxo Bank @ 4’12”
4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia @ 5’19”
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne @ 6″
6. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne @ 6’50”
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 6’55”
8. David Moncouti (Fra) Cofidis-Le Crdit par Tlphone @ 10’10”
9. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 10’57”
10. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre @ 11’56”