The Vuelta a España just keeps rolling along. The raced entered the Pyrenees, hitting the high mountains for the first time, and then had a spell of rolling stages. The result? The maillot oro ended up on the shoulders of a relative outsider, who has to be considered more of caretaker than a real contender. Egoi Martínez of Euskaltel-Euskadi was the lucky one, who took advantage of a long breakaway and time bonuses to snatch the leader's jersey away from Astana's Levi Leipheimer. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer examines stages seven to 12.
The race favourites – Alberto Contador of Astana, Carlos Sastre of CSC, Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde and Leipheimer – all managed to stay close to one another much of the week with a slight advantage going to the two Astana riders. Valverde appeared to lose all his chances on Thursday's stage when the main group gapped him on the descent of the day's final climb.
Leipheimer must have felt as everything was going against him in this race. He took the maillot oro in the fifth stage time trial, only to lose it the next day. He won it back on stage seven and lost it the next day when Martínez gathered enough bonus seconds to take the lead by 11 seconds. To top it off, Leipheimer, who has made no secret of the fact that he himself wants to win the Tour de France, had to hear that Lance Armstrong is returning to the peloton – and apparently in an Astana jersey – with the announced intention of winning the Tour yet again.
The main theme of the second week was the breakaway. Escape groups controlled stages seven, eight and nine. The sprinters finally got their chances, taking the last three stages – even if the sprints didn't always go as planned.
In the mountain rankings, Alessandro Ballan of Lampre won the first Pyrenees stage and took over the red mountain jersey, only to turn it over to David Moncoutié (Cofidis) two days later – both in escape groups, by the way. On the points front, Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) turned the blue jersey over to Valverde for two days, and it ultimately ended up with Greg Van Avermaet of Silence-Lotto, who used – what else – an escape to take it.
Click here to read the full Vuelta wrap-up of the second week of racing.