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Valverde claims Tour of Romandie stage; Contador holds lead

The young Spanish phenom’ Alejandro Valverde maintained the momentum of his outstanding April campaign on Saturday to win the monster climbing stage of the Tour of Romandie, setting up what is sure to be a dramatic showdown in Lausanne. This week-long stage race, now in its 60th edition, will finish up there on Sunday with a 20-kilometer individual time trial. Race leader Alberto Contador said he will do his best to hold off his talented countryman Valverde. “Tomorrow if I win that’s great, but if not I’m still content,” said Valverde, adding that he learned to respect the steep streets of

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By Nathaniel Vinton, Special to VeloNews

Valverde makes it look easy

Valverde makes it look easy

Photo: Graham Watson

The young Spanish phenom’ Alejandro Valverde maintained the momentum of his outstanding April campaign on Saturday to win the monster climbing stage of the Tour of Romandie, setting up what is sure to be a dramatic showdown in Lausanne.

This week-long stage race, now in its 60th edition, will finish up there on Sunday with a 20-kilometer individual time trial. Race leader Alberto Contador said he will do his best to hold off his talented countryman Valverde.

Contador's grip on yellow has been loosened a bit

Contador’s grip on yellow has been loosened a bit

Photo: Graham Watson

“Tomorrow if I win that’s great, but if not I’m still content,” said Valverde, adding that he learned to respect the steep streets of Lausanne in 2002, his first year as a professional rider. “Romandie for us was supposed to be just about stage victories. That’s the way our team was set up here.”

The star of the Spanish Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears squad, Valverdealready sits in the  UCI ProTour lead after winning both the FlècheWallonne on April 19 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 23.

Valverde was runner-up in the opening prologue in Geneva on Tuesday, the day he turned 26 years old. He’ll need that composure when he races against the clock again on Sunday. He is one of five riders within a minute of the general classification leader, Alberto Contador of Liberty Seguros.

Those five riders are Valverde (six seconds back), Cadel Evans of Davitamon-Lotto (at 0:24), Jorg Jaksche of Liberty Seguros (at 0:28), Sergio Ghisalberti of Milram (at 0:54) and Andrea Noe of Liquigas (at 0:57).

Contador held on to the yellow jersey Saturday by hanging with a group of 10 riders who chased down valiant leads by two men – first Ivan Parra Pinto (Cofidis) and then Andrey Kashechkin (Liberty Seguros).

Five riders were missing from the start of the ride, including Paolo Savoldelli of Discovery Channel, the winner of the prologue earlier in the week. The team’s one-word explanation for Savoldelli’s absence was “diarrhea.” Presumably it was his own.

Jan Ullrich of T-Mobile, however, was present, despite finishing the previous day’s ride in the grupetto with a hefty deficit of 12:49.

Ullrich: riding into shape.

Ullrich: riding into shape.

Photo: Graham Watson

“Things are going better, the power is returning to the legs,” said Ullrich, on his team’s Web site. This week is Ullrich’s first race of the season; knee problems having suffered knee problems until now.

Although it may not be immediately obvious from the day’s results sheet, Parras had a heroic day, breaking away early in the race and staying at the front over all three of the day’s category-1 climbs.

After each of the three climbs – to Ovronnaz, Veysonnaz and Crans-Montana – the race returned to the valley of the upper Rhone river and passed through the ancient town of Sion, where the race started and finished.

On the first climb, to Ovronnaz, the peloton disintegrated, but after the descent and a swing through Sion, some order returned and a solid lead pack was established. Starting the second climb, 11 riders had nearly two and a half minutes on the peloton.

Those riders didn’t lose much ground on the sunny climb to Veysonnaz, which rose 746 meters in elevation. Several teams led the peloton, including Liberty Seguros, which had mastered the previous day’s stage at Leysin.

Swinging through the valley once again, the riders dashed through a sprint and a feed zone before tackling the last 50 kilometers, which consisted of the long final climb to Crans Montana, a kilometer in elevation above the valley.

As they approached the summit at Crans-Montana, with nothing but 27-kilometer of descent and flats in front of them on the other side, Parras was in a loose group of four: himself, Kashechkin, Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) and Juan Manuel Garate (Quikstep-Innergetic).

The chase group was less than two minutes back, and Moreau was losing steam. Kashechkin had just arrived at the front, and Parras courageously tried to stay with him and Garate, but it was the descent that proved to be his weakness.

Kashechkin

Kashechkin

Photo: Graham Watson

On the steep descent to Sion, the chase pack slowly closed in on Kachechkin and Garate, and then just Kachechkin once Garate fell back. At the six-kilometer mark, the Kazakh had 25 seconds; at four-kilometers, it was just 19 seconds.

The group engulfed him at one of the roundabouts at the outskirts of Sion, a picturesque town has a tortured history of bidding repeatedly to host the Winter Olympics, appearing to be the favorite, and getting outmaneuvered and disappointed in the end.

Liberty team-mates Contador and Jaksche both made long breaks for the line to try to stop Valverde, who won back to back classics before coming to Romandie and now leads the ProTour standings, claiming the bonus seconds on the line.

Still Smiling: Horner leads the chase. The American now sits in 10th place at 1:14.

Still Smiling: Horner leads the chase. The American now sits in 10th place at 1:14.

Photo: Graham Watson

But they could do nothing against the man rapidly becoming the dominant rider on the ProTour circuit and who looks to be one of the favorites for the Tour de France in July.

Valverde’s strength shone through and the Spaniard pipped Moos and Evans in the sprint to put himself in prime position to claim the yellow jersey on Sunday.

Evans, 24 seconds off the pace, and Jaksche, 28 seconds down from Contador, are the only other two riders with any realistic chance of winning the Tour although neither are time-trial specialists and would both expect to be beaten by Contador and Valverde.


Results:Stage4Overall

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