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Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) digs deep in the final kilometres of the stage to Eibar
Saxo-Tinkoff leader becoming stronger, says Maudit
It was a wet and demanding day on Stage 4 at Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco but for Alberto Contador it was simply another day ticked off in what is still very much a open battle for the overall Basque title that concludes in two days time.
The tough finish in the Basque Hills to the town of Eibar saw last year's winner Samuel Sanchez lose more time but the Saxo-Tinkoff leader has, according to sports director Philippe Maudit, every bit the chance of taking his third title when the race concludes with a 24km time trial around Beasain on Sunday.
"It was a good but very cold and wet day for us," said Maudit on the team site. "Alberto, however becomes stronger and stronger while other riders had a hard time in the cold and on the much tougher stage than yesterday's.
"Tomorrow's stage will be very hard to control for any team and we're aiming to do a good result on the most demanding day of all here," he added.
Contador's most recent victories at the WorldTour race were in 2008 and 2009 but it appears the Spaniard, currently sitting in fourth overall, 10-seconds behind the race leader Sergio Henao (Sky) could be eyeing his next victory with the final race against the clock better suited to the likes of Contador and third-placed Richie Porte (Sky) who sits on the same time as the Saxo Tinkoff rider.
The fast and technical final to the 151km stage was always going to be difficult in the trying conditions and while Contador would normally be suited to the nasty finish, he was not able to follow the final acceleration of Nairo Quintano (Movistar) who attacked shortly before the final right-hander just before the line.
"It was a very, very fast stage where everyone wanted to get into the break," Contador noted after Peter Velits (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) made the day's breakaway and forced Sky and Movistar to chase the Slovakian for most of the day to ensure his 1:49 deficit at the start of the stage did not endanger Henao's lead.
"It was a day dominated by bad weather with constant rain and slippery surface. At the end of the stage, I responded to the attacks from Henao and Richie Porte but couldn't respond to all of the attacks and in the last 300 meters, Quintana created a little gap and took the stage win.
"The race is still wide open with the only news that some riders have been excluded from the GC. My sensations have not been bad but it was really cold and you always suffer a little bit more in this kind of weather but that's the same for everyone. Tomorrow, we'll see what happens. It will be a tough day where anything can happen."