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Contador puts golden stamp on Vuelta

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Alberto Contador (Astana)

Alberto Contador (Astana) (Image credit: AFP)
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Mosquera pulled for the entire final climb

Mosquera pulled for the entire final climb (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia)

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The climbs begin to wear on the breakaway.

The climbs begin to wear on the breakaway. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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All of Caisse d'Epargne's work

All of Caisse d'Epargne's work (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) takes his second consecutive mountain top victory.

Alberto Contador (Astana) takes his second consecutive mountain top victory. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) seals his lead in the general classification by dropping his competitors again.

Alberto Contador (Astana) seals his lead in the general classification by dropping his competitors again. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) leads the break in Mieres.

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) leads the break in Mieres. (Image credit: Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com)
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Dmitry Kozontchouk (Rabobank) joined the break a little later.

Dmitry Kozontchouk (Rabobank) joined the break a little later. (Image credit: Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com)
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Martin Velits (Team Milram) also made the break

Martin Velits (Team Milram) also made the break (Image credit: Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com)
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Astana controlled the peloton impressively.

Astana controlled the peloton impressively. (Image credit: Bjorn Haake/Cyclingnews.com)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) leads the points classification thanks to his stage wins.

Alberto Contador (Astana) leads the points classification thanks to his stage wins. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Another golden jersey for Alberto Contador who is on his way to making history by winning all three Grand Tours - just not in the same year.

Another golden jersey for Alberto Contador who is on his way to making history by winning all three Grand Tours - just not in the same year. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) also leads the combination classification.

Alberto Contador (Astana) also leads the combination classification. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Contador is looking forward to his third Grand Tour title.

Contador is looking forward to his third Grand Tour title. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Contador enjoys another day in the golden jersey.

Contador enjoys another day in the golden jersey. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) takes his second stage win, and solidifies his lead in the overall.

Alberto Contador (Astana) takes his second stage win, and solidifies his lead in the overall. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) leads the breakaway.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) leads the breakaway. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) made the break, but faded on the final climb.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) made the break, but faded on the final climb. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is marked by mountains leader David Moncoutie.

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is marked by mountains leader David Moncoutie. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The final climb does its damage.

The final climb does its damage. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Mosquera pulled for the entire final climb but was passed at the end by Contador and Leipheimer.

Mosquera pulled for the entire final climb but was passed at the end by Contador and Leipheimer. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) leads the gold jersey group.

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) leads the gold jersey group. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Jurgen van Goolen (CSC-Saxo Bank) tried to steal some glory from the favourites, but faded.

Jurgen van Goolen (CSC-Saxo Bank) tried to steal some glory from the favourites, but faded. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Jurgen van Goolen (CSC) powers up the final climb in a vain attempt to steal the stage victory from Contador.

Jurgen van Goolen (CSC) powers up the final climb in a vain attempt to steal the stage victory from Contador. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Jurgen van Goolen (CSC) leads the breakaway and would be the last man to be caught by the Contador group.

Jurgen van Goolen (CSC) leads the breakaway and would be the last man to be caught by the Contador group. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Martin Velits (Team Milram) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) try to hold off the favourites group.

Martin Velits (Team Milram) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) try to hold off the favourites group. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) flew the coop and took the solo victory.

Alberto Contador (Astana) flew the coop and took the solo victory. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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All of Caisse d'Epargne's work was for nought when Alejandro Valverde lost contact on the final climb.

All of Caisse d'Epargne's work was for nought when Alejandro Valverde lost contact on the final climb. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The Caisse d'Epargne team set the pace to bring back the breakaway.

The Caisse d'Epargne team set the pace to bring back the breakaway. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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The climbs begin to wear on the breakaway.

The climbs begin to wear on the breakaway. (Image credit: Unipublic)

Rivals further distanced by dominant Spaniard

Spaniard Alberto Contador of Team Astana put a golden mark on this Vuelta a España with a counter-attack of Ezequiel Mosquera's strong effort to arrive solo and win stage 14 atop the Puerto de San Isidro. He added further time into his overall classification lead with both Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde dropped in the final four kilometres.

Contador's teammate, Levi Leipheimer, jumped Mosquera to arrive second for the stage and solidify his second overall in the classification, at 1:17 back. Spaniards Sastre and Mosquera sit in third and fourth at 3:34 and 4:35, respectively.

"I was not thinking of the stage victory, I just wanted to get more time on my rivals," said Contador. "At the end of the day, the stage victory is always nice. I am very calm even though there is still a week to go in the race."

The group of favourites that had assembled on the 14-kilometre Puerto de San Isidro exploded under the impetus of Team Xacobeo Galicia's Mosquera. Even though Caisse d'Epargne controlled the stage's finale and Sastre pulled for some time, it was the drive of Mosquera that sent the big names gasping for air.

Mosquera, 32, hit the front with 5.5km remaining and he never looked back until Contador passed him. Valverde had trusted mate Rodríguez with him as the two occupied the slipstream of Mosquera. Contador and Leipheimer – today in the white combination jersey – made up spots four and five on the express. However, one by one, the pace of the Xacobeo Galicia rider dropped off the passengers.

Valverde and Sastre slip away

Valverde went out the back shortly after the four-kilometre banner and Sastre quickly followed suit. Mosquera kept plowing forward, but he must have felt the sigh of relief from Contador, who sat on his wheel with Leipheimer, as the golden jersey's most serious rivals went out the back and further down the classification rankings. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and David Moncoutié (Cofidis) picked up Sastre, but he still lost 20 seconds – Valverde one minute.

"Congratulations to Ezequiel Mosquera, the kid already did well in last year's Vuelta and, today, he did a good ride to assure a good position in the general classification. ... He was intelligent," said Sastre.

Mosquera kept driving in what seemed like an attempt to ride himself onto the Vuelta's overall podium. He did not ask once for help from the Astana duo to assist in driving nails into Sastre and Valverde's coffins. However, Contador felt the weight of the golden jersey, the howls of the Spanish fans and the Sastre trio at 14 seconds back.

The winner of the 2007 Tour de France and 2008 Giro d'Italia jumped clear of Mosquera at just before the 1km to go banner. "My team knows how to control the race. They were radioing me, telling me to go for the win," Contador said. The bonus seconds and threat of a Sastre comeback were also a factor.

"It was clear that we had to go on the attack [to reach the podium]. I was hoping there would be some passion and I would be allowed to win the stage, but that wasn't the case," Mosquera commented.

Leipheimer marked Mosquera until the final metres and then jumped clear for second and an Astana one-two – the same order in which they lead the classification. Astana's tactics upset Mosquera's directeur sportif, Alvaro Pino. "After all the work that Ezequiel did they should have let him win," said Pino.

Valverde looks out of contention for the Vuelta's final podium in one-week's time. He is now six minutes back on the overall and must start to shift his focus to the Worlds, in two weeks, as Vuelta stardom fades.

"It is clear that Contador is the better climber," said Valverde. "He also has prepared the Vuelta 100 percent, and has ridden a very impressive race. I had some bad luck, otherwise I would be higher up in the overall." Valverde thought that his one bad day to Suances notwithstanding, he is doing an OK race. "Yesterday was a good stage, today was a bit better."

Asturias attacks

One day after the Angliru spectacle, the 63rd Vuelta a España continued with another mountainous romp through the northwest region of Asturias. From Oviedo to the Fuentes de Invierno ski resort to be exact – 158.4 kilometres. The steep pitches of the Alto de l'Angliru were one day behind but the 150 riders faced a tough day: three category climbs followed by three category one climbs, with the final being up El Puerto de San Isidro.

Before the first categorised climb of the day, Padrún, a dangerous move – including Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) – went clear. Team Lampre brought it back before the summit. However, the saw blade stage facilitated an early escape group and shattered peloton. By the peak of the second climb, Santo Tirso, a move of eight men had 25 seconds over the peloton: Jurgen Van Goolen (CSC-Saxo Bank), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Vasil Kiryienka (Tinkoff Credit Systems), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Martin Velits (Team Milram) and Ivan Mayoz (Xacobeo Galicia).

A group of three – Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Dmitry Kozontchouk (Rabobank) and David Garcia (Xacobeo Galicia) – joined to make 11 before the third of the three category three climbs, Alto de San Emiliano. Chavanel minded himself with grabbing top points from the others for his teammate, David Moncoutié, who carried the red mountains jersey back in the main group. Over San Emiliano, the 12 had 3:40 and 70 kilometres to race until the series of three category one climbs.

Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team put muscle into the favourites group to keep the gap – once at a max of 4:28 – reasonable. By the base of Colladona, the gap was 3:42. Over the top the gap was 4:15. The break stood a good chance of making the Alto de la Colladiella intact, but the finale of Puerto de San Isidro would be touch and go.

Chavanel and Van Goolen fire

With the Caisse d'Epargne team whittling the gap down to nearly two minutes, Chavanel charged away from the ten other escapees at kilometre 131 with Van Goolen, Mayoz and Velits. The other seven faded out of the picture.

Chavanel may have made the initial charge, but it was Van Goolen who had the lasting power. The 27 year-old Belgian hunted for his first professional win with a kick at the base of the Puerto de San Isidro. He gained a half-minute on the favourites group with the other three escapees caught. Midway up the climb, Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick Step) and Iban Velasco Murillo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) caught him and signaled the start of the favourites' fireworks.

Stage 15 - September 15: Cudillero - Ponferrada, 202km

Few riders will be sad that this is the final mountain stage of the 2008 Vuelta a España. The race has one of the most difficult starts this year. From the coastal town of Cudillero the road goes up for the first 83 (!) kilometres, until the bunch is on top of the Puerto de Somiedo. The category one levels out at 1,490 metre.

The road then goes down for 60 kilometres, albeit not as steep as on the way up and not all the vertical metres gained on the other side will be lost. The Alto de la Mina (cat 2) starts at 740 metres of altitude. 5.4 kilometres later the riders are at 1,187 metres. From there a lot of downhill is left, with one rise allowing a break to form.

Ponferrada serves as the finish for the first time since 2029, although it has been used as a star town in 1997 and 2006. The finish town will see the riders complete two laps of 10 kilometres. Ponferrada is in the province of Castilla y León. Its location on the Camino de Santiago and the UNESCO World Heritage Las Médulas (ancient Roman gold mines) have had a positive effect on tourism in the region.

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