Alejandro Valverde says he will keep fighting but admits the Vuelta is almost certainly out of his rPICTURE BY LAVUELTA.COM After keeping himself right in contention despite his bad crash in the middle of the Vuelta's second week, Alejandro Valverde finally succumbed on the climb to the Covatilla ski station yesterday. He lost more than two minutes on race leader Roberto Heras and second place in the standings to Santi Perez, and admitted as he rolled to a halt that "I might have lost the Vuelta here today." After 20 minutes in the team bus, the 24-year-old Spaniard emerged to tell a throng of reporters the tale of an unexpectedly difficult stage. "I don't really know what happened on the Covatilla. I felt really good during the stage, and even at the foot of the climb I still felt very good," he said. "But when Heras attacked I completely collapsed. I couldn't recover. Only thanks to the help I got from the team did I avoid an even bigger deficit. It was a tough task to overhaul Heras before this stage, now my chances have almost totally gone." The Murcian refused to blame the effects of his week two crash. "The injury has cleared up and I am not going to offer that as an excuse. I did as best I could and have to congratulate Heras and Santi Perez. The Vuelta is between them now. But there are still difficult stages ahead and I'm not going to give in." Race leader Heras said he was surprised to gain as much time as he did on Valverde. "I know that it's a hill that can blow a race apart and might not suit his characteristics as a cyclist, but I wasn't expecting to gain so much time. "After Marcos Serrano set a strong pace early on the Covatilla, Valverde's team-mate Carlos Garcia Quesada took over on the front of the group and pushed the pace up even more. I heard Valverde tell him a couple of times to ease off a bit. So I attacked because I thought he was at his limit." Heras acknowledged that he and Perez had worked together to gain as much as they could on Valverde, but then suffered himself near the top of the climb, allowing Perez to close in on the gold jersey. For his part, Perez says he is determined to make as much as he can out of his current form. "The stage went pretty much like the one on the Calar Alto where Valverde struggled. Roberto and I spoke to each other and decided to do all we could to work for the stage win," he told AS. "I was expecting to be in this situation because I didn't come to the race expecting to challenge, but I have taken advantage of the chances I have had."