63rd Vuelta: Wrap Up

by Jack  

No doubt you know by now that the 2008 Vuelta a España ended on Sunday with it's native son, Alberto Contador (Astana), becoming only the 5th rider to win all three grand Tours. Contador came into this race as the heavy favorite, carrying all of the baggage that comes with being the marked man. Having sat out this year's Tour de France, he was fresh, feisty and ready to stamp his authority on the rest of the peloton. His team came packed with their big guns, ready to help their young team captain make even more history. The team included 2 other previous Tour de France podium finishers in German Andreas Klöden and American Levi Leipheimer. By far, they were the strongest team.

But Contador's win did not come easy. He narrowly beat his own teammate, Leipheimer, by less than one minute. It was thanks to the time bonuses (and probably some team tactics) that shifted the balance of power towards the Spaniard. If the Vuelta followed the route of this year's Tour de France and not have given out the bonuses, Contador and Leipheimer would have been tied. (Since they time to the decimal, Contador had a slight edge and would have won anyways.)

But lets not forget the other contenders. There was the showdown with this year's Tour de France champ Carlos Sastre (Team CSC-Saxo Bank) as well as the battle with the other two Spaniards, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel - Euskadi). A fifth Spaniard from a smaller team also mixed it in with the big guns. Ezequiel Mosquera of the Xacobeo Galicia team rode superbly for a possible podium spot. But it wasn't another Spaniard at all that was Contador's biggest challenger. It was his own teammate, seemingly not really trying, but clearly showing he could have won if Contador wasn't the designated leader. Leipheimer placed 2nd graciously by dominating the 2 time trials and winning his first 2 Vuelta stages in his career.

Sastre put up a good fight but just did not have enough punch in the mountains. He lost a few seconds here and there and was never able to gain back the time. Valverde, on the other hand, was clearly riding on good form. He showed that he could stay with Contador on the climbs but a brainless lack of judgment on stage 12 cost him over 3 minutes. Otherwise, 3rd place would have been Valverde's step. But none could have been more disappointed than Igor Anton. He was riding strongly for a podium position until he crashed unexpectedly on a descent in stage 13, just 8km from the finish.

So what does this win for Contador mean? At the tender age of 25, he already has the palmares of someone much older and with more experience. He clearly is the most talented cyclist today and his team proved that they are unstoppable when given the chance. But what if Levi Leipheimer was on another, rival team? What if Leipheimer had the designation of being team leader and was able to ride for himself? There are many calculations to help us make this analysis but one thing is for sure. It would have been a dog fight and very exciting to watch. As you know from my previous post, I feel for Levi. He is a class rider that deserves to have won. He is strong enough to ride for himself on any other team. It's just unfortunate that Astana is so strong with Contador.

So on we go now to the World Championships in Varese, Italy. Leipheimer will no doubt want to carry his great form over and win the rainbow jersey in the time trial. That's perhaps his best shot as the road course is more suited for the likes of Paolo Bettini (Quick-Step), Alejandro Valverde or Oscar Freire (Rabobank). If Levi can end his 2008 campaign with a win at the World's, it may in fact show everyone just how much he deserves that one huge win in his career.

The Podium. Credit: Reuters/Felix Ordonez

Top 10 on the GC for the 63rd Vuelta a España
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
3 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank
4 Ezequiel Mosquera Miguez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
6 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone
9 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre

See the full report and results here.

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