American Levi Leipheimer secured the overall victory in the Vuelta a Castilla y León on Friday, completing the race's final stage in the main field to maintain his 16 second lead over Astana teammate Alberto Contador. Fellow American David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) was third, also holding the same deficit to Leipheimer which he had after the stage two time trial.
Leipheimer, winner of the Tour of California in February, has now emerged as a third leader of the already powerful Astana squad. He earned the respect of triple Grand Tour champion Alberto Contador, who worked to ensure the American's overall victory, at times putting his second place in danger.
"I am very grateful to Alberto and my other teammates," Leipheimer said on the final podium. "On the first day of the race, Alberto told me that this race suited me better than him and that he would help me. He was right. The long time trial and the not so steep mountaintop finishes favored me.
Contador sacrificed his own ambitions on the penultimate stage when Zabriskie made a bid to overthrow the Astana duo with a strong attack. "The way Alberto pulled on the climb to Laguna de los Peces was impressive," Leipheimer said. "The other teammates had to work too all day long. Everybody raced against Team Astana."
After taking the lead early in the race, the Astana team never had an easy ride as Zabriskie as well as Rabobank riders Stef Clement and Denis Menchov were within striking distance of the overall lead. Team Director Sean Yates added that the Spanish teams had big ambitions on home soil.
"Rabobank, Garmin and Caisse d'Epargne made it very difficult for us," said Yates. "And then there were all the Spanish teams. 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."
The squad lost a prime opportunity to test out its pairing of Contador with Lance Armstrong when the latter crashed and broke his collarbone on the first stage.
"We were all very disappointed when we lost Lance Armstrong on the first day of the race. We hope he can share a part of this victory and hope to see him back soon at the races", concluded Yates.
"For me it was an honor and a pleasure to work for Levi," said Contador. "Levi has worked so much for me in the past. I am also satisfied about my condition. I was afraid I would not be fully recuperated from Paris-Nice, but that was not the case. I am in good shape."
Contador's next race will be the Vuelta a País Vasco.