Madrid, Sep 9 (IANS): Alberto Contador is almost certain to be crowned the winner of the Vuelta de Espana (Tour of Spain) cycling race after surviving a valiant counter-attack by Joaquin Rodriguez and Alejandre Valverde on the steep slopes of the Bola del Mundo climb.
Contador started the penultimate stage of the race Saturday with a lead of over 2.21 minutes over third place Rodriguez and 1.35 over Valverde, who had started the day in second, reports Xinhua.
The day took in two other first category climbs and they were used by a group of riders to form a breakaway.
The main group closed the gap, but with the race for the overall classification between Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez, Dennis Menchov was able to stay ahead of the peloton to finish first.
Meanwhile three and a half minutes behind, Rodriguez launched an attack on Contador, who struggled to respond, although the pair left Valverde struggling to keep up as they hit the steep ramps of the Bola del Mundo with around 3 kilometres remaining.
On narrow roads packed with excited fans, Rodriguez opened up a gap on the overall leader, but Valverde, who has not got the explosive climbing speed of his closest rivals struggled to react. He was able to find his rhythm and then began to close on Contador, overtaking him around 500 metres from the finish.
Contador was clearly struggling with exhaustion, but the finish line came just in time as he lost 44 seconds to Rodriguez and a further 19 to Valverde.
Sunday’s stage is a short 115 km ride into Madrid and will almost certainly end in a bunch sprint, which means that barring a major disaster Contador will win the second Vuelta of his career.