By Andrew Hood

2009 Vuelta a Castilla y León: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) takes his first win of the season.

Photo: Graham Watson

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) sprinted to his first victory of the 2009 season in Wednesday’s third stage at the Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) crossed safely with the pack in the second-category summit finish at the San Isidro ski area to retain the overall leader’s jersey he claimed after winning Tuesday’s individual time trial.

2009 Vuelta a Castilla y León
Stage 3: Sahagun to Estaccion de San Isiro. 156.9 km (97.49 miles)

Stage winner: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)
Overall leader Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
Mountain leader: J.A. Lopez (Andalucia-Casajur). Francesco Mancebo (Rock Racing) is second.
Up next: Stage 4 from Santa Maria del Paramo to Laguna de Los Peces crosses the cat. 1 Alto de Penon climb and finishes atop the cat. 1 Laguna de Los Peces. The stage is 145.4 km (90.3 miles)

2009 Stage winners:
Stage 1: Joaquin Sobrino (Burgos)
Stage 2: Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
Stage 3: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

“It was a very aggressive and fast stage, but comfortable for me, even though not so much for my team. My team did a great job today, with (Benjamin) Noval and (Tomas) Vaitkus almost all day at the front pulling,” Leipheimer said. “Later, we had Chechu (Rubiera), Jesús Hernández and Haimar (Zubeldia) working, because it wasn’t easy to control this stage. Tomorrow is similar, with control from my team and attacks from the rivals.”

Strong tailwinds pushed along the peloton up the wide-open valley to the base of the climb. A breakaway featuring danger riders Paco Mancebo (Rock Racing) and Marcos Serrano (Fuji) was neutralized in the final kilometers as Caisse d’Epargne worked in unison to claim its seventh win on the 2009 season.

Astana kept a lid on the breakaway before Valverde’s team finished off the work with less than 5km to go in the 156.9km third stage from Sahagún to San Isidro, high in the snowy Cantabrian mountains.

Valverde cranked up his sprint with 75 meters to go to win easily. Coming through second was Rubén Plaza (Liberty Seguros) with Javier Moreno (Andalucía-CajaSur) crossing the line third.

2009 Vuelta a Castilla y León: Danger man Paco Mancebo (Rock Racing) in the break.

Photo: Graham Watson

“The first victory of the season is always very important. It gives you more confidence for the remaining part of the season and I am really happy I already won today,” Valverde said after the stage. “I planned to try something in this third stage because it was a perfect one considering my characteristics and I knew that if I was lucky I had a chance to win it.”

Leipheimer had no problem following the action and retains his 16-second lead over his teammate Alberto Contador, the two-time defending champion.

The Spanish climber said he’s here to help Leipheimer win the race.

2009 Vuelta a Castilla y León: Race leader Levi Leipheimer and Astana teammate Alberto Contador, a two-time winner here.

Photo: Graham Watson

“It was a very fast stage and the break didn’t go until 92km. The differences were small and we could not allow the break to get a lot of time,” Contador said. “Tomorrow I will help Leipheimer, who is our leader. We are professional, so for me, if he wins, it’s as if I did.”

The 24th Vuelta a Castilla y León continues Thursday with the decisive “queen stage,” which features two first-category climbs, including the grueling finish at the Laguna de los Peces summit.

Valverde said he’s not sure fans should expect to see him again bucking for victory.

“I am really satisfied for winning here because the level of the race is a high one, and also for not racing during so many days before coming here,” Valverde said. “I know that I still have to work a lot before reaching my best level.

“Tomorrow will be another day, with the queen stage and two first category climbs. I hope to recover from today to be with the best riders tomorrow, and if not with the very first, at least not far behind.”

The victory helped pull the attention away from other troubles nagging Valverde.

Valverde has been under the microscope in Italy for his alleged links to the Operación Puerto blood doping ring.

Officials from CONI insist they have matched DNA collected from last year’s Tour de France stage to Prato Nevoso to one of the bags found in police raids in May 2006.

Italian authorities were expected to make a decision as soon as last week on whether they would press for a racing ban against the Spanish rider.

Photo Gallery


Stage results: | (GC standings)
1. Valverde, Alejandro (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 3:28:16
2. Plaza, Ruben (Sp), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
3. Moreno, Javier (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, s.t.
4. Benitez, J. Alberto (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
5. Perez, Ruben (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
6. Sevilla, Oscar (Sp), Rock Racing, s.t.
7. Ardila, Alberto (Col), Rabobank, s.t.
8. Mejias, Javier (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
9. Rojas, Jose Joaquin (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
10. Intxasti, Beñat (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
11. Contador, Alberto (Sp), Astana, s.t.
12. Menchov, Denis (Rus), Rabobank, s.t.
13. Garate, Juan M. (Sp), Rabobank, s.t.
14. Tondo, Xavier (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, s.t.
15. Garcia, David (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, s.t.
16. Konovalovas, Ignatas (Ltu), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
17. Mollema, Bauke (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
18. Leipheimer, Levi (USA), Astana, s.t.
19. Guama, Byron Ecu Burgos Monumental-Cy, s.t.
20. Pasamontes, Luis (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
21. Cobo, J. Jose (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
22. Bernaudeau, Giovanni (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
23. Pires, Bruno (Por), Barbot-Siper, s.t.
24. Ten Dam, Laurens (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
25. Calvente, Manuel (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, s.t.
26. Mosquera, Ezequiel (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, s.t.
27. Palomares, Adrian (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, s.t.
28. Valls, Rafael (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, s.t.
29. Pinto, Edgar (Por), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
30. Azanza, Jorge (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
31. Galparsoro, Dioni (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, s.t.
32. Clement, Stef (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
33. Deignan, Philip (Irl), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
34. Vorganov, Eduard (Rus), Xacobeo-Galicia, s.t.
35. Moerenhout, Koos (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
36. Kostyuk, Denys (Ukr), ISD, s.t.
37. Vande Velde, Christian (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
38. Hernandez, Aitor (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
39. Danielson, Tom (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
40. Sanchez, Julian (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, s.t.
41. Ribero, Nuno (Sp), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
42. Bernabeu, David (Sp), Barbot-Siper, s.t.
43. Gustov, Volodimir (Ukr), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
44. Zabriskie, David (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
45. Gutierrez, Jose E. (Sp), Rock Racing, s.t.
46. Dujn, Huub (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
47. Perez, Marlon (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
48. Castroviejo, Jonathan (Sp), Orbea, s.t.
49. Ruiz, Eriz (Sp), Orbea, s.t.
50. Irizar, Markel (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
51. Nozal, Carlos (Sp), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
52. Garcia, Oscar (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, s.t.
53. Nieve, Mikel (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
54. Kozontchuk, Dmitry (Rus), Rabobank, s.t.
55. Piedra, Antonio (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, s.t.
56. Cuesta, Iñigo (Sp), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
57. Kondrut, Vitaly (Ukr), ISD, s.t.
58. Minguez, Miguel (Sp), Orbea, s.t.
59. Perez, Francisco (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
60. Zubeldia, Haimar (Sp), Astana, s.t.
61. Pujol, Oscar (Sp), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
62. Le Floch, Guillaume (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
63. Herrada, Jose (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, s.t.
64. Duran, Arkaitz (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
65. Kvachuk, Oleksandr (Ukr), ISD, s.t.
66. Peña, Victor H. (Col), Rock Racing, s.t.
67. Nozal, Isidro (Sp), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
68. Vitoria, David (Swi), Rock Racing, s.t.
69. Paleo, Alejandro (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, s.t.
70. Sastre, Carlos (Sp), Cervelo-Test Team, s.t.
71. Chadwick, Glen (NZ), Rock Racing, s.t.
72. Huzarski, Bartozs (Pol), ISD, s.t.
73. Gutierrez, Jose Ivan (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
74. Larralde, Joseba (Sp), Orbea, s.t.
75. Redondo, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, s.t.
76. Francisco, David (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, s.t.
77. V.Der Velde, Ricardo (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
78. Oliveira, Helder (Por), Barbot-Siper, s.t.
79. Broco, Hernani (Por), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
80. Caldwell, Blake (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
81. Fernandez, Alberto (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, s.t.
82. Pinho, Carlos (Por), Barbot-Siper, s.t.
83. Losada, Alberto (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
84. Arashiro, Yukiya Jpn Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
85. Novoa, Joaquin (Sp), Cervelo-Test Team A 17
86. Martinez, Fco. Jose (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur A 17
87. Benitez, Javier (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo A 17
88. Quemeneur, Perrig (F), Bouygues Telecom A 17
89. Melero, Ivan (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy A 32
90. Txurruka, Amets (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi A 40
91. Izaguirre, Gorka (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo A 40
92. Mirenda, Gianluca (I), ISD A 45
93. Riccibitti, Davide (I), ISD, at 1:02
94. Martin, David (Sp), Rock Racing, at 1:16
95. Etxarri, Javier (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 1:35
96. Pauwels, Serge Bel Cervelo-Test Team, at 1:52
97. Rubiera, Jose Luis (Sp), Astana, at 2:20
98. Hernandez, Jesus (Sp), Astana, at 2:20
99. Euser, Lucas (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 2:20
100. Mancebo, Francisco (Sp), Rock Racing, at 2:20
101. Garcia, Jose Vte. (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:20
102. Urtasun, Pablo (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:20
103. Castanheira, Bruno (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 3:07
104. Dominguez, Gustavo (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 3:07
105. Mouron, Juan Fco. (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 3:07
106. Isaychev, Vladimir (Rus), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 3:07
107. Sobrino, Joaquin (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 3:07
108. Sesma, Daniel (Sp), Orbea, at 3:07
109. Dominguez, Ivan (Cub), Fuji-Servetto, at 3:07
110. Claude, Mathieu (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:07
111. Sokolov, Eugey (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:07
112. Coelho, Samuel (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 4:15
113. Olano, Aitor (Sp), Orbea, at 4:15
114. Cardoso, Manuel (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 4:24
115. Jesus, Antonio (Por), Liberty Seguros, at 4:24
116. Serrano, Ricardo (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 4:36
117. Matviev, Sergi (Ukr), ISD, at 5:00
118. Anton, Igor (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:20
119. Gallego, Diego (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 5:20
120. Ilundai, Mikel (Sp), Orbea, at 5:20
121. Echeverz, Eneko (Sp), Orbea, at 5:20
122. Mata, Enrique (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 5:52
123. Celis, Vidal (Sp), Barbot-Siper, at 5:52
124. Rodriguez, Fred (USA), Rock Racing, at 5:52
125. Santamarta, Raul (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 5:52
126. Gaudin, Damien (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 5:55
127. Lopez, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 7:14
128. Carrasco, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 7:14
129. Abakoumov, Igor Bel ISD, at 7:14
130. Dekker, Hans (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 7:14
131. Noval, Benjamin (Sp), Astana, at 9:10
132. Vaitkus, Tomas (Ltu), Astana, at 9:10
133. Amorin, Antonio (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 9:10

GC standings | ( Stage results)
1. Leipheimer, Levi (USA), Astana, 8:33:26
2. Contador, Alberto (Sp), Astana, at 0:16
3. Zabriskie, David (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 0:22
4. Clement, Stef (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:49
5. Menchov, Denis (Rus), Rabobank, at 0:55
6. Irizar, Markel (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:16
7. Gutierrez, Jose Ivan (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:17
8. Sevilla, Oscar (Sp), Rock Racing, at 1:33
9. Danielson, Tom (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:36
10. Vande Velde, Christian (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:39
11. Moerenhout, Koos (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:46
12. Konovalovas, Ignatas (Ltu), Cervelo TestTeam , at 1:47
13. Ten Dam, Laurens (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:47
14. Pasamontes, Luis (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:47
15. Tondo, Xavier (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 1:51
16. Plaza, Ruben (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 1:52
17. Deignan, Philip (Irl), Cervelo TestTeam , at 1:53
18. Garate, Juan M. (Sp), Rabobank, at 1:56
19. Mosquera, Ezequiel (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 2:01
20. Valverde, Alejandro (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:07
21. Hernandez, Aitor (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:08
22. Perez, Francisco (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:10
23. Kondrut, Vitaly (Ukr), ISD, at 2:12
24. Gutierrez, Jose E. (Sp), Rock Racing, at 2:15
25. Peña, Victor H. (Col), Rock Racing, at 2:18
26. Huzarski, Bartozs (Pol), ISD, at 2:18
27. Losada, Alberto (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:19
28. Ardila, Alberto (Col), Rabobank, at 2:20
29. Bernabeu, David (Sp), Barbot-Siper, at 2:24
30. Nozal, Isidro (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 2:26
31. Palomares, Adrian (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 2:31
32. Sastre, Carlos (Sp), Cervelo TestTeam , at 2:32
33. Castroviejo, Jonathan (Sp), Orbea, at 2:34
34. Perez, Marlon (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 2:35
35. Gustov, Volodimir (Ukr), Cervelo TestTeam , at 2:42
36. Kostyuk, Denys (Ukr), ISD, at 2:43
37. Kvachuk, Oleksandr (Ukr), ISD, at 2:43
38. Zubeldia, Haimar (Sp), Astana, at 2:45
39. Moreno, Javier (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 2:49
40. Caldwell, Blake (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 2:51
41. Cobo, J. Jose (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 2:54
42. Garcia, David (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 2:56
43. Nozal, Carlos (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 2:57
44. Duran, Arkaitz (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 3:00
45. Piedra, Antonio (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 3:00
46. Intxasti, Beñat (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 3:01
47. Pires, Bruno (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 3:03
48. Sanchez, Julian (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 3:06
49. Rojas, Jose Joaquin (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 3:11
50. Arashiro, Yukiya (Jpn), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:17
51. Nieve, Mikel (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:18
52. Vorganov, Eduard (Rus), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 3:20
53. Mollema, Bauke (Ned), Rabobank, at 3:25
54. Perez, Ruben (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:26
55. Kozontchuk, Dmitry (Rus), Rabobank, at 3:27
56. Quemeneur, Perrig (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 3:30
57. Vitoria, David (Swi), Rock Racing, at 3:33
58. Chadwick, Glen (NZ), Rock Racing, at 3:40
59. Pujol, Oscar (Sp), Cervelo TestTeam , at 3:41
60. Herrada, Jose (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 3:45
61. Mejias, Javier (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 3:47
62. Valls, Rafael (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 3:49
63. Paleo, Alejandro (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 3:55
64. Ribero, Nuno (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 3:58
65. Galparsoro, Dioni (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 4:06
66. Izaguirre, Gorka (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 4:07
67. Pinto, Edgar (Por), Liberty Seguros, at 4:13
68. Txurruka, Amets (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:26
69. Larralde, Joseba (Sp), Orbea, at 4:37
70. Riccibitti, Davide (I), ISD, at 4:43
71. Le Floch, Guillaume (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 4:47
72. Garcia, Jose Vte. (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 5:04
73. Urtasun, Pablo (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:09
74. Calvente, Manuel (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 5:20
75. Mancebo, Francisco (Sp), Rock Racing, at 5:24
76. Oliveira, Helder (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 5:24
77. Pinho, Carlos (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 5:48
78. Mirenda, Gianluca (I), ISD, at 5:53
79. Hernandez, Jesus (Sp), Astana, at 5:57
80. Guama, Byron Ecu Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 6:27
81. Etxarri, Javier (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 6:30
82. Sesma, Daniel (Sp), Orbea, at 6:34
83. Castanheira, Bruno (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 6:45
84. Dominguez, Gustavo (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 6:49
85. Euser, Lucas (USA), Garmin-Slipstream, at 7:07
86. Claude, Mathieu (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 7:30
87. Mouron, Juan Fco. (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 7:43
88. Sobrino, Joaquin (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 8:02
89. Cuesta, Iñigo (Sp), Cervelo TestTeam , at 8:20
90. Anton, Igor (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 8:23
91. Redondo, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 8:31
92. Dujn, Huub (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 8:35
93. Serrano, Ricardo (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 9:05
94. Rodriguez, Fred (USA), Rock Racing, at 9:30
95. Mata, Enrique (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 10:02
96. Cardoso, Manuel (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 10:04
97. Benitez, Javier (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 10:04
98. Carrasco, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 10:16
99. Melero, Ivan (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 10:23
100. Broco, Hernani (Por), Liberty Seguros, at 10:38
101. Dekker, Hans (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 10:42
102. Minguez, Miguel (Sp), Orbea, at 10:42
103. V.Der Velde, Ricardo (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, at 10:50
104. Benitez, J. Alberto (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, at 10:59
105. Francisco, David (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 11:03
106. Ruiz, Eriz (Sp), Orbea, at 11:05
107. Bernaudeau, Giovanni (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 11:12
108. Garcia, Oscar (Sp), Contentpolis-Ampo, at 11:25
109. Pauwels, Serge Bel Cervelo TestTeam, at 11:42
110. Sokolov, Eugey (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 11:50
111. Rubiera, Jose Luis (Sp), Astana, at 11:50
112. Martin, David (Sp), Rock Racing, at 12:07
113. Isaychev, Vladimir (Rus), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 12:17
114. Lopez, Jose A. (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 12:22
115. Fernandez, Alberto (Sp), Xacobeo-Galicia, at 12:29
116. Noval, Benjamin (Sp), Astana, at 12:47
117. Martinez, Fco. Jose (Sp), Andalucia-Cajasur, at 12:49
118. Azanza, Jorge (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 13:35
119. Abakoumov, Igor Bel ISD, at 13:35
120. Matviev, Sergi (Ukr), ISD, at 14:00
121. Novoa, Joaquin (Sp), Cervelo TestTeam, at 14:11
122. Dominguez, Ivan (Cub), Fuji-Servetto, at 14:30
123. Ilundai, Mikel (Sp), Orbea, at 15:29
124. Gaudin, Damien (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 16:01
125. Echeverz, Eneko (Sp), Orbea, at 16:12
126. Olano, Aitor (Sp), Orbea, at 16:19
127. Santamarta, Raul (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 16:49
128. Coelho, Samuel (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 17:06
129. Gallego, Diego (Sp), Burgos Monumental-Cy, at 17:21
130. Jesus, Antonio (Por), Liberty Seguros, at 17:59
131. Celis, Vidal (Sp), Barbot-Siper, at 19:38
132. Vaitkus, Tomas (Ltu), Astana, at 20:40
133. Amorin, Antonio (Por), Barbot-Siper, at 22:49