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Leipheimer and Contador deliver one-two Astana punch

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Levi Leipheimer (Astana) gives it his all

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) gives it his all (Image credit: AFP)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) grimaces

Alberto Contador (Astana) grimaces (Image credit: AFP)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC)

Carlos Sastre (CSC) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre)

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) grimaces as he finishes the stage 20 time trial. He can rest easier with one day to go before he wins his third Grand Tour.

Alberto Contador (Astana) grimaces as he finishes the stage 20 time trial. He can rest easier with one day to go before he wins his third Grand Tour. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Levi Leipheimer (Astana) gives it his all to take his second stage win, and securing second overall in the Vuelta. He is still the only American to stand on the Spanish Tour's podium, and goes one step higher than his finish in 2001.

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) gives it his all to take his second stage win, and securing second overall in the Vuelta. He is still the only American to stand on the Spanish Tour's podium, and goes one step higher than his finish in 2001. (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) can rest easy with just one stage left to go.

Alberto Contador (Astana) can rest easy with just one stage left to go. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Levi Leipheimer (Astana) took the stage win, his second of the Vuelta.

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) took the stage win, his second of the Vuelta. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) didn't have good legs, but still managed second on the stage.

Alberto Contador (Astana) didn't have good legs, but still managed second on the stage. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) put in another strong time trial performance.

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) put in another strong time trial performance. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Sandy Casar (FdJ) took a nice 12th place.

Sandy Casar (FdJ) took a nice 12th place. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo Galicia)

Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo Galicia) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alberto Contador (Astana) started off well, but quickly began to struggle.

Alberto Contador (Astana) started off well, but quickly began to struggle. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Robert Gesink (Rabobank) faded out of the top five overall.

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) faded out of the top five overall. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Andreas Klöden (Astana) put in a good ride for 10th place.

Andreas Klöden (Astana) put in a good ride for 10th place. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Levi Leipheimer (Astana) came within 46 seconds of winning the Vuelta.

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) came within 46 seconds of winning the Vuelta. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in the mountains leader's kit.

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) in the mountains leader's kit. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) took sixth, but failed to knock Sastre off the podium.

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) took sixth, but failed to knock Sastre off the podium. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Evgeny Petrov (Tinkoff) set one of the fastest early times.

Evgeny Petrov (Tinkoff) set one of the fastest early times. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Nicholas Roche (Credit Agricole) confirmed his future as a Grand Tour rider by finishing 13th overall.

Nicholas Roche (Credit Agricole) confirmed his future as a Grand Tour rider by finishing 13th overall. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne)

Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) came in fourth on the stage to secure his podium spot.

Carlos Sastre (CSC) came in fourth on the stage to secure his podium spot. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Valverde rode without aero bars but still posted nearly the same time as Contador.

Valverde rode without aero bars but still posted nearly the same time as Contador. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) had the best time until the Astana duo came through.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) had the best time until the Astana duo came through. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) showed the determination of a Tour winner by holding off a charge to knock him off the podium.

Carlos Sastre (CSC) showed the determination of a Tour winner by holding off a charge to knock him off the podium. (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Oleg Tinkoff tries his luck on the course - somehow I don't think he was quite up to speed

Oleg Tinkoff tries his luck on the course - somehow I don't think he was quite up to speed (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Greg van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) shows that although he's an up-and-coming sprinter, his time trialling ain't the best, finishing 108th

Greg van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) shows that although he's an up-and-coming sprinter, his time trialling ain't the best, finishing 108th (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Van Avermaet's team-mate Yaroslav Popovych finished the day in 44th

Van Avermaet's team-mate Yaroslav Popovych finished the day in 44th (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto) was the U23 TT world champion in 2006 and took 19th on the stage

Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto) was the U23 TT world champion in 2006 and took 19th on the stage (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Milram's Erik Zabel may have ridden his last TT at the Vuelta

Milram's Erik Zabel may have ridden his last TT at the Vuelta (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Vasili Kirienka (Tinkoff) grimaces with the mega effort during stage 20

Vasili Kirienka (Tinkoff) grimaces with the mega effort during stage 20 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Sergio Paulinho is resplendant in his Portuguese national champion's kit

Sergio Paulinho is resplendant in his Portuguese national champion's kit (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Another Portuguese rider, 'Chechu' Rubiera proves there's life in the old legs with 36th place

Another Portuguese rider, 'Chechu' Rubiera proves there's life in the old legs with 36th place (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Hey, Andreas! Andreas Kloeden smiles for the camera - now that's rare!

Hey, Andreas! Andreas Kloeden smiles for the camera - now that's rare! (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Another veteran, Sandy Casar puts in the hard yards for Marc Madiot

Another veteran, Sandy Casar puts in the hard yards for Marc Madiot (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) cemented his place in the top 25

Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) cemented his place in the top 25 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Javier Moreno (Andalucía - Cajasur) gasps for air on his way to finishing 21st

Javier Moreno (Andalucía - Cajasur) gasps for air on his way to finishing 21st (Image credit: Sirotti)
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The diminuitive John Gadret (Ag2r) is well suited to hilly time trials and it showed as he finished in the top 20

The diminuitive John Gadret (Ag2r) is well suited to hilly time trials and it showed as he finished in the top 20 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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David Arroyo has been one of Caisse d'Epargne's weapons during the Vuelta

David Arroyo has been one of Caisse d'Epargne's weapons during the Vuelta (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Jurgen Van Goolen (CSC Saxo Bank) makes his way up the climb

Jurgen Van Goolen (CSC Saxo Bank) makes his way up the climb (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Juan Manuel Garate (Quickstep) was keen to finish his Vuelta strongly and finished 30th

Juan Manuel Garate (Quickstep) was keen to finish his Vuelta strongly and finished 30th (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Stage 15 winner, David Garcia Dapena wanted to keep his high GC position intact, and he did

Stage 15 winner, David Garcia Dapena wanted to keep his high GC position intact, and he did (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Nicolas Roche (Credit Agricole) has proven he's got what it takes to ride a good Grand Tour during this Vuelta

Nicolas Roche (Credit Agricole) has proven he's got what it takes to ride a good Grand Tour during this Vuelta (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) couldn't add to his tally of TT wins, finishing eighth

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) couldn't add to his tally of TT wins, finishing eighth (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne) rides within himself on stage 20

Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne) rides within himself on stage 20 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) really shows the strain

Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) really shows the strain (Image credit: Sirotti)
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David Moncoutie (Cofidis) has never been known for his time trialling ability

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) has never been known for his time trialling ability (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Former race leader Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel uses the time-honoured, tongue-out climbing technique

Former race leader Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel uses the time-honoured, tongue-out climbing technique (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Joaquim Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) looks in all sorts of pain during stage 20

Joaquim Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) looks in all sorts of pain during stage 20 (Image credit: Sirotti)
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One of the favourites going into the Vuelta, Alejandro Valverde, battles to secure a top five GC position

One of the favourites going into the Vuelta, Alejandro Valverde, battles to secure a top five GC position (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Rabobank's Robert Gesink has enjoyed a strong 2008, and finishes the Vuelta in good form with a top 10 in the final TT

Rabobank's Robert Gesink has enjoyed a strong 2008, and finishes the Vuelta in good form with a top 10 in the final TT (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) ensured that he'd finish in the top five overall with sixth in the TT

Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) ensured that he'd finish in the top five overall with sixth in the TT (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre should be happy with a Vuelta podium in Madrid

Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre should be happy with a Vuelta podium in Madrid (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Levi Leipheimer (Astana) again proved why he's got a reputation as a great time trialler

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) again proved why he's got a reputation as a great time trialler (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Astana team leader Alberto Contador proved why he's the hottest property in cycling right now

Astana team leader Alberto Contador proved why he's the hottest property in cycling right now (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alberto Contador once again dug deep to defend a GC lead

Alberto Contador once again dug deep to defend a GC lead (Image credit: Sirotti)
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All roads lead to Madrid at the Vuelta

All roads lead to Madrid at the Vuelta (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Assan Bazayev (Astana) makes his way through the big crowd

Assan Bazayev (Astana) makes his way through the big crowd (Image credit: Sirotti)
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If you follow this road you'll get to the Spanish capital... the hard way!

If you follow this road you'll get to the Spanish capital... the hard way! (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Gorazd Stangelj (Liquigas) finished in 101st position

Gorazd Stangelj (Liquigas) finished in 101st position (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Levi Leiphimer was in the zone on his wya to winning the final TT

Levi Leiphimer was in the zone on his wya to winning the final TT (Image credit: Sirotti)
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But the American was chased by his team-mate, Alberto Contador

But the American was chased by his team-mate, Alberto Contador (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Come on Alberto! Contador had plenty of support

Come on Alberto! Contador had plenty of support (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Tinkoff's Evgeny Petrov flew the Russian flag for the boys in yellow

Tinkoff's Evgeny Petrov flew the Russian flag for the boys in yellow (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alejandro Valverde made a real go of climbing the GC ladder today

Alejandro Valverde made a real go of climbing the GC ladder today (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Levi Leipheimer looking compact at the finish in Alto de Navacerrada

Levi Leipheimer looking compact at the finish in Alto de Navacerrada (Image credit: Sirotti)
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A big grimace from stage winner Levi Leipheimer as he crosses the line

A big grimace from stage winner Levi Leipheimer as he crosses the line (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alberto Contador made it a great day for Astana by sealing the overall victory

Alberto Contador made it a great day for Astana by sealing the overall victory (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Yes! Mission complete... for Alberto Contador

Yes! Mission complete... for Alberto Contador (Image credit: Sirotti)
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All action figure of Levi Leipheimer sold separately...

All action figure of Levi Leipheimer sold separately... (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Thanks, you've been a great audience acknowledges Levi Leipheimer on the podium

Thanks, you've been a great audience acknowledges Levi Leipheimer on the podium (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Levi gets more mantlepiece fillers for his victory in Alto de Navacerrada

Levi gets more mantlepiece fillers for his victory in Alto de Navacerrada (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Levi Leipheimer is thrilled with the stage victory and second overall in this year's Vuelta

Levi Leipheimer is thrilled with the stage victory and second overall in this year's Vuelta (Image credit: Sirotti)
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And he cuts loose with a big swig of the bubbly

And he cuts loose with a big swig of the bubbly (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Winners get the babes... and doesn't Alberto know it!

Winners get the babes... and doesn't Alberto know it! (Image credit: Sirotti)
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More kisses for Alberto Contador ahead of the final stage into Madrid

More kisses for Alberto Contador ahead of the final stage into Madrid (Image credit: Sirotti)

GC locked in ahead of sprinters' day in Madrid

American Levi Leipheimer stomped his way to a second time trial win in the 63rd Vuelta a España and looks set as the favourite to beat for next week's World Championships. He bettered his Astana teammate and overall race leader, Alberto Contador, by 31 seconds at the end of a 17.1-kilometre climb up Alto de Navacerrada, but still trails the Spaniard on the overall classification by 46 seconds.

When asked if he could have won the Vuelta under different circumstances, Leipheimer said, "I had no pressure. [Contador] had a lot of pressure in this race. He is Spanish, it's the Tour of Spain. It's impossible to say [if I could have won]. He deserves the victory. I never though about winning the Vuelta [today]. I wanted to win the stage."

Spaniard Contador rode within himself to defend the maillot oro and, barring incident, will win the race's overall after tomorrow's 'sprinters' stage' in Madrid. Leipheimer remains second overall ahead of Spaniard Sastre of Team CSC-Saxo Bank.

With the possible win in Madrid tomorrow, Contador becomes only one of five riders to win all three Grand Tours – joining Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi and Jacques Anquetil. He went from the maillot jaune on Paris' Champs Élysées to the maglia rosa in Milano and on to his final triumph in a period of 14 months.

Contador wasn't thrilled with his performance, but was happy to have put it behind him. "Today my form wasn't like I wanted it to be. I realised fighting for the stage win was difficult, so I just wanted to secure my lead in the overall classification," he said. There was a point when Contador realized he could lose the Vuelta, but he managed to pull just enough strength out to hold on.

"When you suffer, all kinds of thoughts go through your head. My teammate [Leipheimer] was very strong. I was close to my limits, but I also think that when things are difficult you can enjoy the victory even more," Contador said, looking forward to the evening's festivities. "I think today we will have a special dinner, not just the usual pasta and fish...But tomorrow we will do the real fiesta."

Astana begins and ends the stage

Team Astana started the day and ended the day. Dmitriy Muravyev, at 2:45 PM, was the first rider to launch down the start ramp in La Granja de San Ildefonso. He faced a 17.1-kilometre parcours with nearly 700 metres of climbing. The weather was perfect for the stage, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures of 25°C.

Kazakhstan's Muravyev crossed the line in Alto de Navacerrada 37:01 later. The time was a critical reference point for his teammates Contador and Leipheimer later on in the day.

Christophe Kern of Team Crédit Agricole, who featured in stage 13's escape to Alto de l'Angliru, came through to post the early best time. The 27 year-old Frenchman topped Tinkoff's Mikhail Ignatiev and Pavel Brutt with a time of 36:20.

Spain's Rubén Pérez of Euskaltel-Euskadi went well under Kern's time by 1:05. His time of 35:15 ousted Russia's Evgeni Petrov (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Belgium's Dominique Cornu (Silence-Lotto), Ukraine's Andriy Grivko (Team Milram) and fellow Spaniard José Ruiz (Andalucía-Cajasur).

Over to the big guns

The battle for fifth overall in the Vuelta was up for grabs between three riders: Robert Gesink, and Caisse d'Epargne teammates Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez. Gesink held 11 seconds on Valverde and 16 on Rodríguez at the start of the day. The 22 year-old Dutchman had a hard fight against the Spaniards.

The duo had Gesink on the ropes at the nine-kilometre check. Valverde put in 14 seconds one Gesink and Rodríguez 10 seconds, and by the 12-kilometre check, Valverde was 26 second up and Rodríguez only four. They delivered the knockout punch at the top of Navacerrada; Valverde finished third with 33:37 and 1:06 into Gesink and his teammate put 21 seconds into him. Valverde, winner of stage two, claimed fifth, Rodríguez sixth and Gesink slipped to seventh.

"I felt very well and decided to give it all in the time trial," said Valverde, according to a team press release. "The result tells that I was right to do so and the fact that I finished in the same second as Contador is a great satisfaction for me." His time was only tenths of a second off of Contador's ride.

Ezequiel Mosquera of Team Xacobeo Galicia was out to stake a place on the 63rd Vuelta a España's podium. He started the day at 54 seconds off of Carlos Sastre, but lost time on the way to Navacerrada. He was 12 seconds back at kilometre nine, 10 seconds at kilometre 12 and 13 seconds at the finish with a time of 34:21.

Sastre's solid ride over the three weeks and 34:08 on stage 20 allowed him to maintain his third spot overall against an aggressive Mosquera. The latter will go on to represent Team Spain in the World Championships road race next week and Sastre will take a well-earned rest.

Contador and Leipheimer, with the former leading the race by 1:12, faced an internal battle even if neither of them admitted it. Who knows exactly what team orders Johan Bruyneel gave to the two riders in the team bus, but Leipheimer, after coming so close in the 2007 Tour de France, faced another opportunity to win a Grand Tour.

Leipheimer posted fast time checks, but it was not enough. He bettered Contador by 11 seconds at kilometre nine with a time of 10:32 and held 11 seconds at kilometre 12 with 18:21. However, his momentum carried him through to a stage win. His time of 33:06 did not give him the 1:12 gap needed on Contador, but it did ensure that he won the stage when his teammate finished with 33:37.

Leipheimer said that there was no question of who was going to win the Vuelta, even if he made the race closer with his stage win. "Before the race we only spoke about what kind of equipment to use," the American said.. "It was a difficult stage. What kind of wheels, what kind of helmet. Afterwards I told Alberto I am really happy for him. Now he can enjoy the victory because he worked very hard for it."

Critical movements

Marzio Bruseghin of Team Lampre made big movements in the classification with his ride. His time of 34:37 was enough to see him as provisional best until Cofidis' David Moncoutié posted 22 seconds faster. The Italian, whose last win came in the Giro's time trial to Urbino, finished eighth for the day and jumped from 12th to 10th in the overall.

Swiss Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) and Spaniard Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne) both dropped back one spot. Zaugg holds 11th and Valverde's teammate is in 12th. Irishman Nicolas Roche of Team Crédit Agricole, second in stage 18, held onto his 13th overall.

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