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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Time lost to Gesink, but Vuelta leader warns of critical weekend
Vuelta a España leader Alejandro Valverde was pleased with the outcome of the race's 12th stage to Velefique, despite losing time to general classification rival Robert Gesink (Rabobank) in the final two kilometres of the stage. The Caisse d'Epargne captain said he remained cautious as the race heads into the second and third of three successive mountain-top finishes.
"The stage today was one of the most important of this Vuelta and I am happy with my result," said Valverde after the stage. "One day less to race and one more day with the gold jersey."
Gesink attacked the gold jersey group 1.5 kilometres from the finish line in an effort to close the 36 second advantage that Valverde held over him at the start of the day. Rather than pursue the Dutch rider, Valverde chose instead to mark his nearest rival, Cadel Evans, in the finale.
"In the final when Gesink attacked, I was on Evans’ wheel because, with his position in the general classification, he is the rider I have to watch all the time. I believe [Evans] was not comfortable [on the final climb], but on the other side everybody was being careful today because we have to keep strength for the next two stages."
Valverde also praised his Caisse d'Epargne teammates, whose tempo on the final climb minimized the damage to his overall lead. "My team achieved a fantastic job during the entire day and my teammates’ rhythm in the last ascension of Velefique made so that it was almost impossible to attack us."
Gesink's 18 second gain on Friday means that the Rabobank captain will start stage 13 on Saturday, just 18 seconds from the race lead and, perhaps more immediately for the Dutchman, 11 seconds behind the second place of Cadel Evans. With mountain top finishes on both Saturday and Sunday, Valverde remains understandably cautious about Gesink's proximity.
"Today I lost a few seconds compared to Gesink, but I believe that there will be more important gaps tomorrow and I hope to be ahead."
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