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
Stage winner Levi Leipheimer
Photos by Graham Watson
|TOUR OF SPAIN 2008|
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
Sastre slams Riis for lack of support
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