Spaniard Alejandro Valverde powered to the win in the 31 kilometre stage three time trial, putting in a stunning performance to beat Levi Leipheimer (Astana). Valverde exceled in the difficult and rainy time trial, taking 19 seconds out of the American, who slipped in ahead of Silence Lotto's Cadel Evans, who took no risks in the slippery conditions, by one slim second.
The ride pulled Valverde into the lead in the overall classification, where he now sits 23 seconds ahead of Leipheimer. The morning's leader, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), who excels only in shorter tests, gave up his goal to do well when he saw how hilly and technical the course was.
"That was a too hard course for a normal time trial," the Norwegian commented after crossing the line with the 98th time. "I didn't even try to go fast. Now it's gonna be four days of training in the mountains and I hope the weather will be better than today."
The rainy conditions in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez affected a few riders. A crash prevented the young French hope for time trials Jérôme Coppel (Française des Jeux) from getting the result he expected. Milram's Andriy Grivko also went down but still collected a valuable top ten (8th) and now lays in sixth place overall.
With his significant win, Valverde took charge of this year's event. "It was a very, very hard course," the Spaniard said. "Our directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois went to see it yesterday and described it as hard but when I saw it this morning, it appeared to be even harder. The rain made it slippery and very complicated."
Valverde was very focused but didn't expect to go so well. "I'm a little bit surprised, considering the quality of the riders I beat out," he commented. "The first 20 kilometers were an uphill time trial, which is my speciality. The downhill was very technical and it was more to my advantage that to a pure time triallist."
It looked like Leipheimer wasn't comfortable in the corners in the second part of the race, but he actually lost more time to Valverde on the climb, as he was 36 seconds behind at the first check point and only 19 seconds behind at the end. From 28 seconds after the climb, Evans also reduced his deficit a little bit to 20 seconds.
The Australian was happy with his ride. "I didn't do this time trial at the maximum," he explained. "I climbed at my maximum but I took no risk in the downhill. It would have been a pity to crash with three weeks to go before the Tour de France. The form is there."
Valverde also had the Tour in mind. "What I did today in this time trial is mentally positive and important for the Tour de France, it increases my confidence," the Caisse d'Epargne rider said. "I cannot compare with last year's time trials. At the Dauphiné I lost a bit more than one minute on (Alexandre) Vinokourov on a flatter course than today. The time trial of the Tour de France in Albi doesn't count as a reference because that was a very bad day for, everything went wrong that day."
Questioned about whether he improved his time trialling or he became the number one because of cycling getting rid of some cheats, Valverde answered: "No matter what some riders did, whether they cheated or not, I've turned the page about the past. I improve my time trial every year, it comes with the age and the motivation. I found the right form with racing less, mostly with one day races like when I was an amateur, also with the training camp up the Sierra Nevada. Last year my results were good but affected by all the pressure of the rumors concerning the Operación Puerto. That's totally behind me now. Becoming a father has also made me more calm."
Valverde is now in contention for the overall win at the Dauphiné. Leipheimer and Evans are his main rivals. "Now we have the yellow jersey and we'll defend it 'til the end," Valverde warned. "The coming stages are the ones that suit me the best. I'm not worried about keeping my good form till the Tour de France."