Contador set for Vuelta victory
Menchov escapes to take stage win
Last Updated: September 9, 2012 5:02pm
Alberto Contador: Survived a late scare to comfortably hold on to the red jersey
Alberto Contador dug deep on the ramps of the Bola del Mundo to all but guarantee himself victory at the Vuelta a Espana on the penultimate stage.
The Spaniard (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) came under pressure from his rivals on the final mountain-top finish of the race but held on to ensure himself a victorious ride into Madrid on Sunday.
An epic final climb brought the curtain down on the GC battle and it was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who hit out on the steep ramps of the 11.4-kilometre ascent. After holding the red jersey for the bulk of the race the rider known as 'Purito' would have to be satisfied with third place overall.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) held firm to secure second spot, 21 seconds ahead of Rodriguez overall after a spectacular finish that saw riders coming to a near-standstill on ramps touching 23 per cent.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) survived a flat tyre for the final 1.5km of the climb to take fourth overall, the GC contenders arriving after a breakaway had contested the stage win.
That honour went to Denis Menchov (Katusha), the two-time Vuelta winner going clear on the final climb alongside Richie Porte (Team Sky) before kicking hard in the final metres to take the win.
"Yes, it's won but it's been very tough," Contador said.
"Today I didn't have any complicated moments, I knew that Rodriguez would attack, but I just tried to keep going at my own pace.
"It was so close to the finish that I knew it would be impossible for him to get back the time on me."
With reports of hailstorms at the finish and wet roads early on the peloton wrapped up for a tough day in the saddle as the Vuelta returned to the mountains.
After 18km the pattern was set as a large group of 20 riders went clear ahead of five categorised climbs. Among them Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) made sure of the blue and white polka dot jersey of the mountains competition at the top of the Puerto de la Morcuera.
Back in the pack it was Euskaltel-Euskadi setting the pace, the men in orange seemingly determined to bring the break back despite the gap having spun out to over 10 minutes.
As the sunshine returned the escapees still retained a 6:50 gap over the top of the penultimate climb, the break working well together to guarantee one of them the stage victory.
Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) the first to attack on the lower slopes of the final climb but was unable to sustain the effort, his move acting as the launch pad for the winning dig as Menchov, Porte and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) went clear to make up the day's top three.
Back in a reduced peloton it was Rodriguez who came to the fore on the steep concrete ramps of the climb, gapping his rivals but unable to alter the podium positions.