In yesterday's stage four of the Vuelta a Castilla y León in Spain, Team Astana's Levi Leipheimer defended his overall lead against a handful of contenders. The uphill finish at Laguna de los Peces offered a last opportunity for those with climbing legs to attack the American. While Juan José Cobo gave his Fuji-Servetto team its first victory of the season, no one could make a difference within the group of favourites, which left Leipheimer and Alberto Contador sitting one-two on the overall with one stage to go.
After the race, Astana directeur sportif Sean Yates said the key to the team's success had been its hard work as well as the composure and good legs of its leaders. "We always had to work hard," he said. "Rabobank had plans. We had to stay calm. Obviously Levi and Alberto had fantastic legs. For them there was no problem but for the rest of the team it was hard work. But they regrouped and then everything was under control. It's often the same scenario. It looks ugly but you have to stay calm and regroup and do what you can do the best and that is work as a team, just as we did in California.
"Obviously Levi and Alberto had such a good legs. There is no way that someone would be able to do something against them on the final climb."
Second-placed Contador put himself at the service of Leipheimer and made the pace in the favourites' group, pulling back escapee David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and making sure no one else could make a move on the final climb. The Rabobank duo of Stef Clement and Denis Menchov was well under control.
But the Spanish riders racing on home soil also had to be taken care of, and Team Astana had to be watchful throughout the race. "It was hard for the boys," continued Yates. "It is a big race for all the Spanish teams. They don't have so many opportunities to race in the same races as Contador and to be on TV. They don't want to miss a move. They are all chasing each other. We like to see a harmless breakaway happen, but it never happens with the time gaps being so small."
Today's final stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León will finish in Valladolid after 152.5 kilometres. The race, which made headlines a week ago as the first race to see Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador compete together before the Tour de France this year, may well see Leipheimer as an overall winner.
Armstrong abandoned the event on Monday due to a broken collarbone.