Alberto Contador (Astana) added his own name to the short list of riders who have won on the mythical climb of the Alto di Angliru. The Giro d’Italia winner took the stage and gold jersey ahead of Spanish champion Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez (both Caisse d’Epargne) and now is the overwhelming favourite for victory in Madrid next week.
After several unsuccessful attacks in the opening kilometres, Christophe Kern (Credit Agricole) escaped after 37km. After building a solo gap, the Frenchman literally stopped to wait Maarten Tjallingii (Silence-Lotto) and Matej Jurco (Milram) and the three extended their lead to 10:40 by the mid point of the stage. Behind
them, the peloton was led by the Astana team of Contador and Levi Leipheimer aided by the Lampre team of Damiano Cunego.
On the penultimate climb of the Alto di Cordal with 20km to go Kern set off alone, dropping his two companions as the Euskaltel-Euskadi team added its power to the chase. On the descent though, the Basque
team’s efforts appeared to be in vain as team leader Igor Anton Hernandez crashed and had to abandon.
As the group of favourites reached base of the final climb to the mythical alto di Angliru, the familiar sight of Jose Luis ?Chechu’ Rubiera could be seen setting the pace on the front, just as he had done for former leader Lance Armstrong in successive Tours de France. This time though, the local Asturian rider’s efforts were all for team leader Contador, and his pace was proving too hot for a number of leading riders who formed a steady line off the back of the group.
At 7.5km remaining Rubiera ? job done ? pulled over and teammate Levi Leipeimer took over on the front. The injection of pace by the American proved too much for all but Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez and Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia). As Leipheimer dropped off though, it was not Contador but Valverde ? who still had team-mate Rodriguez with him ? who put in the first attack, the Astana team
leader was able to match the Spanish champion’s pace quite easily though.
With 5km to the finish, Contador put in an acceleration reminiscent of his battle with Michael Rasmussen in the 2007 Tour de France and the two Caisse d’Epargne riders were unable to respond. More concerned with Tour winner Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) than the Bala Verde who lost heaps of time two days ago, Contador pressed on up the steepest 23.5% sections of the climb. The Astana leader ploughed on to finish alone, 43 seconds ahead of Valverde, 57 ahead of Rodriguez, 1:04 ahead of Leipheimer, but most importantly 1:30 ahead of Sastre.
Overnight gold jersey wearer Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel not unexpectedly lost 7:05 on the day slipping out of overall contention.
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)