Vino vs. Valverde: the showdown

"As of today, the two Kazakhs are my biggest rivals," said Vuelta a España leader Alejandro Valverde...

"As of today, the two Kazakhs are my biggest rivals," said Vuelta a España leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) after stage 9 on Sunday. "I chased them down on the last kilometre, but Vinokourov was out of reach. That was the hardest stage I've ever ridden." Indeed, Astana's Andrey Kashechkin and Alexandre Vinokourov put some pressure on their pedals on the way up the Alto de La Cobertoria, and were rewarded by a second stage win for Vinokourov.

But initially, the plan had been a little different. "We wanted to win the stage and take over the leader's jersey," said 'Vino', who had his younger teammate in tow as he powered towards the stage finish. But Kashechkin lacked endurance in the finale, and is now 27 seconds behind Valverde on General Classification.

"I have been trying to get the 'amarillo' jersey for years," continued the determined Spaniard. "Now, I finally succeeded. It's really special to me and I will do everything in my power to defend it."

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