Vuelta 9: Alejandro Valverde takes gold

Gustavo Veloso wins ninth stage

Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde took the overall lead of the Tour of Spain off Australian

Cadel Evans following the race's ninth stage on Monday which was won by his compatriot Gustavo Cesar Veloso.

Veloso, riding for Xacobeo Galicia, finished the 188.8-kilometre (117-mile) mountain stage between Alcoy and Xorret del Cati that included one category one climb in 5 hours, 21 minutes, 4 seconds.

The 29-year-old attacked in the final climb of the stage to arrive 21 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Italy's Marco Manzano.

"You have to win to know how hard achieving a victory is," said Veloso after winning the stage, adding he was determined to help his team achieve the highest possible classification.

Valverde, who is looking to win his first major tour after twice finishing on the podium in the Tour of Spain, came in third, 40 seconds behind the winner, thanks to a late surge.

"There was a lot of tension in the peloton and I decided to attack because some of the favourites were struggling," he said.

The time bonus which Valverde won for his third place finish allowed him to take the overall leader's yellow jersey from Australia's two-time Tour de France runner-up Evans, who dropped to second, seven seconds behind.

Valverde is still serving a two-year ban for doping in Italy - which he is contesting - which prevented him from taking part in the Tour de France this year as it briefly passed through the country.

"I am very happy, and even more so because I might be able to ride into Murcia tomorrow as leader," said Valverde, who was born in Murcia.

The Tour continues on Tuesday with a 171.2-kilometre ride between Alicante and Murcia which includes a second category climb a little over 11 kilometres from the finish.

Last year's top three finishers, champion Alberto Contador of Spain, US rider Levi Leipheimer and Carlos Sastre also of Spain, have stayed away this year from the three-week race that ends in Madrid on September 20.

© AFP 2009

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