Alberto Contador (Astana) picked up where he left off last July and won Friday’s “queen stage” to surge into the overall lead at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal.
Contador attacked near the base of the short but steep climb up the Category 2 Alto do Malhão to drop the chasing favorites to claim a solo victory. Portuguese rider Tiago Machado (RadioShack) trailed through second while Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), also making his season debut this week, came through third.
Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) was equally impressive, riding to fifth to prove that he isn’t afraid to race against the elite pros in his rookie season in Europe.
Overnight leader André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) couldn’t keep pace and Contador bounced into the overall lead. Saturday’s stage is another transition stage likely for the sprinters while Sunday’s time trial finale should decide the podium.
The Cat. 2 Alto do Malhão provided a stiff test for the pack in the five-day Algarve tour. The climb is only 2.7km, but the average grade is a steep 8.9 percent, which the hard part coming in the final kilometer. Floyd Landis used the climb to with the Algarve in 2004 in what was his first major victory in Europe.
Astana once again was working hard at the front of the pack to control a potentially dangerous breakaway that included Ted King (Cervélo).
Defending champion Contador obviously wanted a shot at the stage in his first race since winning last year’s Tour de France.
The pack roared to the base of the climb when Contador and Astana teammate David de la Fuente surged to the front. Machado tried to follow, but Contador was soon on his own.
Contador hit the 1km banner with the stubborn Machado about eight seconds arrears, with the main pack chasing at about 25 seconds.
King in early move
Sun and cool temperatures welcomed the peloton following Thursday’s horrendous weather.
There was more bad news for RadioShack. Tomas Vaitkus crashed out of Thursday’s stage after his front wheel found its way into a huge hole in the road. Early in Friday’s stage, Gert Steegmans was also out of the race after hitting a car parked along the road.
At 10km, the day’s main breakaway pulled clear, including Ted King (Cervélo TestTeam). Joining the American were Wouter Weylandt (Quick Step), Gonzalo Rabuñal e Nelson Oliveira (Xacobeo Galicia), Thomas de Gendt (Topsort Vlaanderen-Mercator), Bruno Saraiva (CC Loulé-Louletano-Aquashow) and Pieter Ghyllebert (An Post Sean Kelly Team).
By 40km, the gap grew to more than three minutes and Astana put legs on the front to keep them on a short leash. At 142km, Neilson was the only rider left from the escape and the break was nullified with about 20km to go.
Top 10 – Stage:
1. Alberto Contador (Sp), Astana, 5:02:55
2. Tiago Machado (Por), RadioShack, at 0:11
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack, at 0:22
4. Peter Velits (Svk), HTC-Columbia, at 0:25
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA), HTC-Columbia, at 0:25
6. Jean Christophe Peraud (F), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:29
7. Samuel Sánchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:31
8. Rui Costa (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:33
9. Luis Leon Sánchez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:33
10. Andreas Klöden (G), RadioShack, at 0:33
1. Alberto Contador (Sp), Astana, in 15:20:17
2. Tiago Machado (Por), RadioShack, at 0:15
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack, at 0:28
4. Samuel Sánchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:35
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA), HTC-Columbia, at 0:35
6. Rui Costa (Sp), Caisse D’Epargne, at 0:43
7. Luis Leon Sánchez (Sp), Caisse D’Epargne, at 0:43
8. Matthew Lloyd (Aus), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:43
9. Andreas Kloden (G), RadioShack, at 0:43
10. Joaquín Rodríguez (Sp), Katusha, at 0:43