Monday, March 24, 2008

Contador Takes Revenge In Spain

Alberto Contador and his Astana teammates aren’t going to the Tour de France this summer, so they look intent on winning everything else instead.

Just a day after Tomas Vaitkus sprinted to victory in Holland, last year’s Tour champ surged to an impressive time trial victory to open the Vuelta a Castilla y León on Monday in northern Spain.

Contador stopped the clock on the technical 9.7km course in 11 minutes, 39 seconds, just 3.6 seconds faster than Tour of California champ and Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer.

Contador started last as defending champion and looked back at his time and pumped his right fist into the air as he crossed the line. You could almost hear him say, “Take that, ASO.”

Leipheimer led a strong American showing in the five-day race, with Jason McCartney (CSC) stopping the clock in fourth at 15 seconds off the pace with Christian Vande Velde and Steven Cozza (both Slipstream-Chipotle) settling in for sixth and seventh, respectively. Tyler Farrar (Slipstream) was just out of the top 10 in 11th.

The otherwise modest Castilla y León tour attracted an all-star field, including Astana’s A-team with Contador, Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden.

Also lining up were Carlos Sastre (CSC), Thomas Dekker and Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and a motivated Slipstream-Chipotle squad. Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) was a late scratch due to illness.

The technical, twisting course opened with a short climb quickly followed by an endless series of turns that didn’t fit the bill of the typical time trial seen in Spain. The stage ended in front of the summer palace of the Spanish kings at San Ildefonso, but it had all the look of winter with dreary skies and traces of snow.

Chris Horner (Astana) set an early fast time of 12:11 on a cold afternoon a day after the season’s worst winter storm blew through northern Spain to leave behind snow-covered mountains, cloudy skies and brisk temperatures.

Horner’s ride in the hot seat lasted until McCartney blew through with a time 17 seconds faster than his compatriot, before Dekker nipped that by just under two seconds faster in a time of 11:52.

Leipheimer blew through the course in his first race in Europe this year to knock nearly 10 seconds off Dekker’s time to post 11:43 and looked to have the win in the bag as none of the late finishers could touch his time.

The last rider out of the gate was Contador, winner of last year’s edition in what was his breakout year that culminated in his Tour victory last July.

Slipstream-Chipotle put three riders into the top 11, with Christian Vande Velde sixth at 22 seconds slower, Steven Cozza seventh at 25 seconds off the pace and Tyler Farrar 11th at 30 seconds adrift. The solid rides put the team into second in the team’s classification behind Astana.

The 23rd Vuelta a Castilla y León continues Tuesday with the 141.7km second stage in a bumpy route from Segovia to Ávila. The stage tackles three Category 2 climbs, with the final climb coming 19km before the finish into the walled city of Ávila.


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