How much can happen in just eight kilometres of climbing in the Tour of Spain?
In an action packed day of racing, the Vuelta?s third mountain top finish in five days at the Alto de la Cobertoria not only saw Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) take his second stage win in 24 hours, at the same time overnight leader Slovenian Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) cracked and lost two minutes.
Brajkovic?s semi-collapse simultaneously left the path open for Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne-Illes Balears), the charismatic and popular local favourite to move into the lead - for the first time in his career.
As if that wasn?t enough, after Valverde took off in hot pursuit of Vinokourov and his Astana team-mate Andrey Kashechkin, three kilometres from the summit, Spain?s other top contender, Carlos Sastre (CSC), lost around 20 seconds.
The two Kazakhs, Vinokourov and Kashechkin, had launched a joint attack almost as soon as the bunch had started Alto de La Cobertoria, the last climb of the five classified ascents of stage nine.
Behind, Valverde?s team shredded the chasing group to around 20 riders, as Valverde told his best climbing team-mate on the day, giant Russian Vladmir Karpets, to ?keep things steady and not panic about Vino?.?.
The biggest victim of Valverde?s team?s high-speed tempo was the young Brajkovic, just 22 years old and able to stay with the best until six kilometres to go.
After Brajkovic cracked, Sastre launched an attack to try and catch the two Kazakhs, but all his move acheived was reduce the chasing group to himself, Valverde, Saunier Duval?s Jose Gomez Marchante and the winner of the first mountain top stage four days before, Liquigas Danilo Di Luca.
It was up to Valverde to close the gap on Vinokourov and Kashechkin and visibly gritting his teeth, he managed to tear out of the group of four chasers.
The same tactic of a late, all-out, charge had earned Valverde the win in the Alto del Morredero three days before, but this time, it didn?t work.
Despite closing the gap on Vino? to just 16 seconds at the line, Valverde was unable to repeat his epic last-second acceleration past the Astana rider of 72 hours before.
?it doesn?t matter, I didn?t get the stage win, but I have got the overall lead, and that?s good too.? Valverde, now 27 seconds ahead of Kashechkin and 44 up on Sastre on gc, said.
?From now on the two Kazakhs will be my two most dangerous rivals.?
Victorious first in Lugo when he outpaced the sprinters on Saturday and 24 hours later on the Cobertoria climb, Vinokourov said he no longer ruled out winning overall.
?I?m fifth on GC and I?m getting stronger. A lot could happen between here and Madrid.? the Kazakh predicted.
The Tour of Spain now has its first rest day on Monday before racing resumes again on Tuesday with a stage through difficult hilly terrain from Aviles to Santillana del Mar.
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