Contador maintains lead in Vuelta


Mon, Sep 22, 2008 - Page 19

Levi Leipheimer of the US won the 20th and penultimate stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, while Astana teammate Alberto Contador of Spain retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

The 34-year-old Leipheimer moved into second place overall after finishing the 17.1km time trial up the category 1 Alto de Navacerrada mountain in 33 minutes, 6 seconds.

Contador followed 31 seconds later, just ahead of Alejandro Valverde of Spain.

Contador will complete a rare sweep of cycling’s three major races — the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta — if he retains his lead during the final stage.

Barring an unexpected upset or accident, the 25-year-old Astana rider will equal the feat of former cycling greats Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi and Bernard Hinault, who also won the three cycling classics.

Contador won last year’s Tour and this year’s Giro. A Vuelta victory would see him claim all three titles within 15 months, besting Hinault’s previous record of 26 months.

Leipheimer is 46 seconds behind Contador overall. This year’s Tour champion Carlos Sastre of Spain, riding for Team CSC, is 4:12 back in third.

“It was important to maintain the overall lead,” Contador said. “They were really squeezing me from behind, so I didn’t have time to even think of celebrating until I’d finished. Now, I just want to rest a bit and savor the moment.”

Sastre said he was delighted to finish the stage 1:02 behind in fourth place to secure third place overall.

“I wanted to secure third place but it was difficult, which is all you know when you are out there fighting,” Sastre said. “But I did it. It was very important for me and I will be very happy to be on the podium in Madrid.”

The race was set to end yesterday with a 102.2km ride from San Sebastian de los Reyes north of Madrid to the finish down the central Castellana boulevard.