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Sanchez swoops to stage success

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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) (Image credit: AFP)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) (Image credit: AFP)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) (Image credit: AFP)
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Team-mates Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde

Team-mates Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde (Image credit: AFP)
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A horseman gallops along

A horseman gallops along (Image credit: AFP)
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A tribute to Pantani

A tribute to Pantani (Image credit: AFP)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) (Image credit: AFP)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) points to the heavens after winning Stage 13.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) points to the heavens after winning Stage 13. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) beats the bunch home by less than a second.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) beats the bunch home by less than a second. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) celebrates his win, while Thor Hushovd (L) and Alejandro Valverde (R) sprint for second.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) celebrates his win, while Thor Hushovd (L) and Alejandro Valverde (R) sprint for second. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the podium.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the podium. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is a happy camper.

Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is a happy camper. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) extended his overall lead in the race.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) extended his overall lead in the race. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) piles on the pressure late in the race, with Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic) grimacing to stay on his wheel and Carlos Sastre (CSC) losing contact.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) piles on the pressure late in the race, with Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic) grimacing to stay on his wheel and Carlos Sastre (CSC) losing contact. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) gives it some gas.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) gives it some gas. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Team-mates Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde ride next to each other.

Team-mates Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde ride next to each other. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Snack-time for race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears).

Snack-time for race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears). (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) takes in some fluids.

Carlos Sastre (CSC) takes in some fluids. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) breaks clear of the peloton.

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) breaks clear of the peloton. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) about to discover what's in his bag of swag.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) about to discover what's in his bag of swag. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The peloton single file as the chase begins in earnest.

The peloton single file as the chase begins in earnest. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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A horseman gallops along with the bunch.

A horseman gallops along with the bunch. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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A tribute to Pantani - the sign reads "Marco Pantani is in the highest"

A tribute to Pantani - the sign reads "Marco Pantani is in the highest" (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) accepts some good luck charms.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) accepts some good luck charms. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Spaniards Carlos Sastre (L) and Oscar Pereiro share a light moment before the start of Stage 13.

Spaniards Carlos Sastre (L) and Oscar Pereiro share a light moment before the start of Stage 13. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The peloton ride past sweeping plains and blue skies.

The peloton ride past sweeping plains and blue skies. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The peloton at full speed.

The peloton at full speed. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) wins the team's first stage

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) wins the team's first stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Luca Paolini (Liquigas)

Luca Paolini (Liquigas) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sanchez

Sanchez (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Valverde keeps the leader's jersey for at least one more day

Valverde keeps the leader's jersey for at least one more day (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Valverde leads the chase on the roads into picturesque Cuenca

Valverde leads the chase on the roads into picturesque Cuenca (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Valverde surges

Valverde surges (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic)

Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Trying to finsh with a high placing

Trying to finsh with a high placing (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sergio Paulinho (Astana), brining up the rear

Sergio Paulinho (Astana), brining up the rear (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sanchez' teammates haven’t had much success in the Vuelta - their best finish before Friday was Inigo Landaluze’s third on stage 11, plus Sanchez’ 14th place overall heading into today

Sanchez' teammates haven’t had much success in the Vuelta - their best finish before Friday was Inigo Landaluze’s third on stage 11, plus Sanchez’ 14th place overall heading into today (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A narrow but scenic route through the town's old walls

A narrow but scenic route through the town's old walls (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Kevin Hulsmans Quick Step-Innergetic

Kevin Hulsmans Quick Step-Innergetic (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Early action

Early action (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Passing a Pantani shrine on the climb over Alto del Castillo

Passing a Pantani shrine on the climb over Alto del Castillo (Image credit: Unipublic)
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On the climb

On the climb (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Sanchez wins

Sanchez wins (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The peloton passes across dry Spanish countryside under partly-cloudy skies

The peloton passes across dry Spanish countryside under partly-cloudy skies (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the podium

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the podium (Image credit: Unipublic)
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In cruise mode; the pack waited until two thirds of the stage was complete before chasing the five-man break

In cruise mode; the pack waited until two thirds of the stage was complete before chasing the five-man break (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Lush green hills

Lush green hills (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Fighting for position on the wind-up into town

Fighting for position on the wind-up into town (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Riders try to keep it together for a bunch sprint after the break is caught. Samuel Sanchez had other ideas and launched himself in a wining solo move with 3km to go

Riders try to keep it together for a bunch sprint after the break is caught. Samuel Sanchez had other ideas and launched himself in a wining solo move with 3km to go (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Sunglass; this year's fashion statement

Sunglass; this year's fashion statement (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) visiting friends and fans in the finishing straight

Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) visiting friends and fans in the finishing straight (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Discovery Channel had an incentive to keep the gaps down today with two riders still in the top ten in GC; Janez Brajkovic (6th) and Manuel Beltran (7th)

Discovery Channel had an incentive to keep the gaps down today with two riders still in the top ten in GC; Janez Brajkovic (6th) and Manuel Beltran (7th) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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As did with the leaders jersey on their teammates back

As did with the leaders jersey on their teammates back (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Hot enough for you?

Hot enough for you? (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Valverde looked comfortable today

Valverde looked comfortable today (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Valverde checks the speed limit on the highways of Spain.

Valverde checks the speed limit on the highways of Spain. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Discovery parks two horse on the front to keep the pace high and the gap to the breakaway close

Discovery parks two horse on the front to keep the pace high and the gap to the breakaway close (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Directing traffic

Directing traffic (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The break: Frederic Bessy (Cofidis), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Lars Bak (CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel)

The break: Frederic Bessy (Cofidis), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Lars Bak (CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Don’t miss the turn to Cuenca

Don’t miss the turn to Cuenca (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Valverde holds onto the leader's jersey

Valverde holds onto the leader's jersey (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The break early in the day

The break early in the day (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Just before the start in Guadalajara

Just before the start in Guadalajara (Image credit: Unipublic)

For second year running, stage 13 goes to Euskaltel rider

Last year fortune seemed to smile on Euskaltel rider Samuel Sanchez, with his victory on stage 13 to La Bien Aparecida owing a fair bit to luck. On that occasion Mauricio Ardilla looked set to take the honours, but the Colombian sprinted for the wrong banner and sat up 100 metres before the line. Sanchez and Oscar Pereiro both capitalised on this error, slipping by and taking first and second on the stage.

364 days later, Sanchez won again, but this time it was strength, timing and fearless descending which saw him race home first. He displayed his climbing ability when he bridged across to a crack group of riders including those of the calibre of Danilo di Luca (Liquigas), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) which had gone clear on the tough ascent through the old part of Cuenca. Once past the summit, he then jumped at the right time - with 7 kilometers to go - to get a gap, and then used his remaining strength and the skills honed by an early background of moto cross riding to build a decent lead and hold off – just about – a fast-closing, 28 man group to the line.

“I think that the victory of last year was perhaps a little lucky,” he admitted. “One of my breakaway companions sat up 100 metres from the line. This year it was different – I had the strength to get the victory in another way and it is a very nice and emotional win for me.

“It was a difficult descent but not really one where you had to take many risks. I think if it was more dangerous it would actually have been better for me. I did take some risks on the last hairpin before entering Cuenca – it was necessary to do so in order to take the correct line around the bend. I made a huge effort to get this win.”

Sanchez had a lead of ten seconds with one kilometre remaining and even took a drink in that final run in to the line, but was very nearly overhauled by points leader Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and continuing maillot oro Alejandro Valverde in the big sprint which happened behind him. “It was very hard in the last kilometre. I didn’t have much of a lead and I had to go very hard. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, I really had to dig in in the final three or four hundred metres,” he said.

He was asked about that gulp of fluid, something which could arguably have cost him a small amount of time due to the disruption in his rhythm. He felt it was necessary. “Well, I was feeling half dead and my mouth was really dry so I needed a drink,” the 28 year old stated. “I made a very big effort on the last climb against all the big favourites, and then especially on the descent, and because of that I didn’t have a lot of power near the end. I needed to drink.”

Taking one for the team

His win is the first of the race for the Euskaltel team, who started with high expectations but whose best result was Inigo Landaluze’s third on stage 11, plus Sanchez’ 14th place overall heading into today. Landing this result now relieves some pressure on the team, and also increases his own personal ambitions.

“We started in Malaga with three leaders and were looking to do something maybe not in the overall, but to take a stage win. For me to get the victory here is something very special; the team will be very happy. Now the goal for me is to improve a bit in the overall classification [he is currently 12th overall, 5’21 back] and if I can finish in the top five, I would be very happy.”

Earlier on in the stage a group comprising Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC), Frédéric Bessy (Cofidis) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) went clear and, thundering along over the undulating terrain and past ghostly fields of dead sunflowers, built a near eight-minute lead. However it all came back before the third category ascent up to the old cliff-side part of Cuenca, where Danilo Di Luca and a few others blew the race apart.

Race leader Valverde was very prominent, showing well on the climb and taking third on the stage plus a eight second time bonus. He said that his confidence is high prior to tomorrow’s crucial time trial. “It is true that I feel very well”, he said. “Tomorrow morning we will go and see the course of the time trial. We already had the opportunity to see a part of it today in the final of the stage with the climb of El Castillo and the descent to the finish line.

“The course is a very hard one but personally I prefer that to a flat parcours. Everybody seems to expect a duel with Vinokourov but the one I fear the most is Kashechkin, for the very simple reason that he is closer in the general classification. As a result, he has a better chance of taking over the maillot oro. But I have faith in my abilities because in the time trial we rode in the Tour of Romandy, we had more or less the same time. That is a positive sign for tomorrow.”

His team-mate Oscar Pereiro will be holding back in the race against the clock due to his goal of helping Valverde in the race, and also because of a slight illness he felt today. “Since breakfast I suffered with my stomach,” he said. “I felt sick with and wanted to vomit, but then I recovered and could do the work the team requested from me to help Alejandro.

“Tomorrow I don’t think I will give it all in the time trial because the most important thing is to recuperate some forces to be able to help our leader during the last week. It will be a difficult one for everybody.”

Sanchez’ goal of taking a high placing in the final general classification means that he, along with Valverde, Sastre, Vinokourov, Kashechkin and others will be going flat out all the way. Although Spanish riders have traditionally done well in stage races, he is one of the rare breed who can do so while also thriving in the Classics. Past results there have included second in this year’s Fleche Wallone, fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and fifth in the Championship of Zurich; like Vinokourov and Valverde, he is able to change his focus and ride well in Grand Tours.

“My season is in two parts. Early on I prepare myself for the Classics as well as possible, and then I change my manner of training to get ready for the second half of the season. I think a Tour of three weeks requires a different type of training. I believe it is good to do things that way, the early part for the Classics and then, later on, target a strong ride in the Vuelta.”

How it unfolded

The riders of the 2006 Vuelta a España covered some intersting and notable terrain in stage 13; Luis Ocaña, one of the greatest Spanish riders of all time, was born in Priego (where the race passed at km 100) in 1945, won the Vuelta in 1970 and died in 1994. And the town of Cuenca has hosted the finish of stage several times in recent years. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) had won last year here.

Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile) didn't sign in today at the start in Guadalajara, leaving 158 riders in the peloton; Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Andrea Moletta (Gerolsteiner), Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner) and Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval) had left the race yesterday.

Unlike the previous days, the race started calmly on Friday. It wasn't until km 57 that the peloton allowed a breakaway with five riders in it to escape: Frederic Bessy (Cofidis), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Lars Bak (CSC), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) attacked at the second climb of the day in Alto de Corcoles. Landaluze inserted himself in his third breakaway of the Vuelta. At the summit of Corcoles, Boogerd rode first followed by Rebellin and Bessy.

At the second intermediate sprint in Priego (km 100), Iñigo Landaluze crossed the billboard first with Bessy and Bak, leading the peloton by 7:38 at this point. The Basque rider won the Luis Ocaña trophy for passing at first place at that point.

At 136-kilometers into the race, with a 3:36 gap still open between the break and the main pack, the peloton reacted and started taking back time. At km 155 (25 km to the end), the distance was very short, just 40 seconds as the peloton put a very fast tempo (around 70 km per hour) to reach them. Five kilometres on, the five leaders were caught.

At Alto del Castillo (summit at km 167.2 - 12.8 km to go) the real show began. Luis Perez (Cofidis) attacked; Alejandro Valverde reacted followed by Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas). Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) was behind and passed to lead the race at the descent.

Sanchez took risks on the descent to stay way and with just three-kilomneters to the line was still seven seconds ahead of the favourites - including race leader Valverde. The Euskaltel rider led by 10 seconds with just 1,000 metres to go. The last kilometre was a flat straight that didn't fit Sanchez well but he pushed hard, made a fantastic last effort, and won the stage. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) came behind with Alejandro Valverde in third place.

Stage 14 - September 8: Cuenca-Cuenca, individual time trial, 33.2 km

Stage 14 will be the second time trial after the team TT at stage one in Malaga. It will be a good chance to see how the favorites can do, especially Alejandro Valverde, against the clock. The route won't be flat as the riders will face Alto del Castillo (Cat. 3 - 1,120 m. - summit at km 20.7) in the middle of the course. It seemed not to be the key stage for the overall classification as there are three mountain stages yet left.

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