Vuelta a Espana stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson>>
Alejandro Valverde has taken over as race leader of the Vuelta after the Caisse d'Epargne rider outsprinted a small group of favourites behind stage nine winner Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo-Galicia).
Best-known before today for his victory in the 2008 Tour of Catalonia, Cesar Veloso was part of a day-long break that shattered on the short but painfully steep Xorret de Cati climb.
Whilst Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) broke away early on on Xorret, Cesar Veloso caught the Estonian national champion close to the summit. He then soloed down a fast descent to the finish line just three kilometres further on for the biggest victory of his career.
Meanwhile in the main bunch, Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team had ripped the race apart on Xorret's gradients of up to 19 percent.
Briefly aided by team-mate Joaquim Rodriguez, Valverde dragged himself, Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and race leader Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) clear by the summit.
Caught by Robert Gesink (Rabobank) in almost the same spot that Cesar Veloso had powered past Taaramae, the foursome tore down the fast singletrack lane to the finish together.
Valverde then used his sprinting skills to cut through the inside of the final right-hand bend and take third and an eight second bonus. Not much, but enough for the Spaniard to take over from a disgruntled-looking Evans as race leader just in time for the Vuelta's stage from Alicant to his home region of Murcia.
The question of whether Valverde should be racing at all, of course, still remains unresolved.
The Spaniard has been barred from racing in Italy for two years because of his alleged implication in the Opèracion Puerto anti-doping probe. That suspension already prevented Valverde from taking part in this year's Tour de France, which passed through part of Italy on one of its Alpine stages.
However, Valverde's team appealed against the suspension in the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] and a verdict has still not been given. Meanwhile Valverde is free to continue racing - and as of Monday, leading the Tour of Spain.
Stage nine, Alcoy-Xorret de Cati, 186km
1. Gustavo Cesar (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia in 5-21-04
2. Marco Manzano (Ita) Lampre at 21sec
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 40sec
4. David de la Fuente (Spa) Fuji-Servetto at 41sec
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at same time
8. Javier Ramirez (Spa) Andalucia-Cajasur at 53sec
9. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 1-12
10. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at same time
Overall classification after stage nine
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 7 sec
3. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) at 36 sec
4. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 51 sec
5. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 53 sec
6. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-03
7. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre at 2-04
8. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 2-24
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Astana at 3-01
10. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto at 3-08
Cadel Evans (left) loses the race lead to Alejandro Valverde (right)
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage reports
Stage eight: Cunego takes first mountain stage of 2009 Vuelta
Stage seven: Cancellara outpaces Millar in TT
Stage six: Bozic surprises sprint rivals to take win
Stage five: Greipel wins again and takes race lead
Stage four: Greipel wins after big crash wipes out bunch
Stage three: Henderson wins stage
Stage two: Ciolek takes first road stage, Hammond third
Stage one: Cancellara wins Vuelta opener
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Photos
Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage two photo gallery by Graham WatsonStage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
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