He?s almost there. Alberto Contador took second in Saturday?s mountain time trial behind American Levi Leipheimer, making overall victory in Madrid a virtual certainty for the 25-year-old Spaniard.

Cheered on by tens of thousands of fans on the Navacerrada climb, Contador had no problems limiting his losses on the only real threat to his overall lead: Astana team-mate Levi Leipheimer.

After the first nine kilometres – mostly undulating terrain through dense pinewoods – Contador was only 11 seconds down on the American. And after three kilometres of the steadily rising, well-surfaced climb, the Spaniard was trailing Leipheimer by exactly the same margin.

Barring absolute disaster, with over a minute?s advantage on the overall on Leipheimer before the stage, by that point Contador could be almost sure that the Tour of Spain crown was his. Probably the biggest danger, in fact, were the hordes of over-excited fans on each side of the road, with several only pulling out of the Spaniard’s path at the very last moment.

Contador stayed upright, fortunately – to lose the Vuelta at that point because of some idiot fan would have been grossly unfair. And when he swung into the final finishing straight as the road flattened in the last 100 metres, his look of intense concentration suddenly turned into a grin.

Contador flashed across the line 31 seconds down on Levi Leipheimer, and just a few hundredths of a second ahead of a surprisingly strong Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne).

Carlos Sastre?s fourth place on the stage meant there was no change in the order of the top three overall. For the CSC-Saxo Bank rider, third in Madrid is the fifth time cycling?s Mr. Consistency will have finished on the final podium in a major Tour.

For the record, too, Leipheimer?s win on Navacerrada is the first ever American to take two stages of the Vuelta and remains the only USA-born rider to finish on the podium of the Tour of Spain – third in 2001 and second in 2008.

Contador, though, has clinched a far bigger prize. Victory in Madrid on Sunday will make him the first Spaniard ever to take all three major Tours – and only the fifth in the history of the sport.

?I tried not to think about it on the climb and not to panic,? Contador said afterwards.

?I wanted the overall win, not the stage. So I went at my own pace, rather than thinking about Levi?s times too much.?

?I?ve been too nervous, too, to think much about the final victory. It?s only now that I?ll really enjoy the feeling of leading my home race.?

TOUR OF SPAIN 2008: STAGE 20 ITT RESULTS

La Granja de San Ildefonso – Alto de Navacerrada

1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 17.1km in 33min 6secs


2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 31secs

3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 31secs

4. Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank at 1min 2secs

5. David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis at 1min 9secs

6. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 1min 15secs

7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 1min 16secs

8. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre at 1min 31secs

9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 1min 37secs

10. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 1min 57secs

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 20

1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 77h 55min 29secs


2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 46secs

3. Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank at 4min 12secs

4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 5min 19secs

5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 6min

6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 6min 50secs

7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 6min 55secs

8. David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis at 10min 10secs

9. Egoi Martinez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 10min 57secs

10. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre at 11min 56secs

Tour of Spain - Vuelta a Espana 2008Carlos Sastre

Tour of Spain - Vuelta a Espana 2008Alejandro Valverde

Tour of Spain - Vuelta a Espana 2008Alberto Contador

Tour of Spain - Vuelta a Espana 2008Stage winner Levi Leipheimer

Photos by Graham Watson

TOUR OF SPAIN 2008

STAGE REPORTS

Stage 19: Arroyo denies sprinters with seconds to spare

Stage 18: Roche loses stage by inches

Stage 17: Weylandt takes Quick Step’s fifth stage

Stage 16: Boonen wins second sprint

Stage 15: Garcia Dapena takes solo win

Stage 14: Contador takes second mountain-top stage win

Stage 13: Contador wins on Angliru to take lead

Stage 12: Bettini wins, Valverde out of contention

Stage 11: Freire wins stage

Stage 10: Hinault wins, Martinez retains lead

Stage nine: Van Avermaet takes stage, Martinez new leader

Stage eight: Moncoutie triumphs in Vuelta’s second Pyrenean stage

Stage seven: Ballan takes surprise win in mountains

Stage six: Bettini wins, Chavanel leads

Stage five: time trial win for Leipheimer

Stage four: Bennati takes crash-strewn stage

Stage three: Boonen bounces back

Stage two: Valverde powers into lead

Stage one: Liquigas are surprise winners

NEWS

Sastre slams Riis for lack of support

Tour of Spain rest day review 1

Tour of Spain on Eurosport (schedule)

Behind the scenes at the Tour of Spain

Tour of Spain – still a week too long?

Tour of Spain kicks off this weekend

PHOTOS

Stage 17

Stage 16

Stage 15

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage nine

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one