Thursday, April 10, 2008

Contador Comfortable in Basque Country

Team Astana’s Alberto Contador continued to see yellow as he retained the leader’s jersey for a 4th day at the 48th Vuelta al Pais Vasco in the Basque region of Spain on Thursday. With his boys in blue riding up front all day to control a potentially dangerous breakaway group, Contador sat at the top of the leader board once more as the race winds down with two more stages.

A group of five went away after 20km of racing and contained a danger man in Australian champion Matt Lloyd (Silence-Lotto) who sat only 1.07 down on GC, as well as yesterday’s escapee Morris Possoni (Team High Road). Team Astana allowed the gap to grow but made sure Lloyd was well within reach as the peloton neared the finish line. Riding as the virtual race leader on the stage, Lloyd looked confident and strong as the race wore on and he kept his breakaway moving at a decent pace throughout the day.

The sprinters’ teams showed little interest in working and left the time gap in control of Astana. With Chris Horner, Benjamin Noval, Maxim Iglinskiy and Chechu Rubiera all taking the helm in the final climbs, Contador kept a close eye on any movement in the forward group. At the top of the final climb Lloyd took off like a shot as the gap hovered at 47 seconds back to the peloton. Possoni gradually came across to join the Aussie rider and the duo powered on for the finish in Gasteiz. Team Astana remained calm and ramped up the speeds to maintain contact.

Finally willing to do some work, Lampre and Liquigas went forward but Team High Road sat on as much as possible to lend aid to their man Possoni up front. But the gap continued to fall as the finish line drew closer, and with 1km to go it was a slim 12 second advantage to the two leaders. Lloyd and Possoni battled as they tried to hold their lead but in the end it was Possoni’s own teammate Kim Kirchen who nipped him on the line. Presumably preventing the win from going to someone else, Kirchen might have inadvertently snatched the win from his deserving teammate who had just spent a full day off the front. Talk about the agony of defeat! Third place belonged to

Contador still holds a small gap of seconds in front of three seconds in front of Ezequiel Mosquera and eight seconds back to David Herrero, both of Karpin Galicia. With more climbs in Friday’s stage before the final time trial to cap things off on Saturday, Alberto and his amigos still have some work to do to defend all the way to the end. They rode a smart race today, never panicking about Lloyd up front and just slowly brought the gap down to something acceptable for the final two stages. Never looking for others to help them out, Team Astana set about getting the job done and keeping Contador in yellow. Job well done, guys.

General Classification after Stage 4

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 16.32.01
2 Ezequiel Mosquera Miguez (Spa) Karpin Galicia 0.03
3 David Herrero Llorente (Spa) Karpin Galicia 0.08
4 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
5 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team High Road
6 Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto
8 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
9 Patxi Javier Vila (Spa) Lampre
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone

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