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Chris Horner's hold on the Tour of Romandy's leader's jersey lasted just one day as Liberty Seguros' Alberto Contador took the race's toughest stage on Friday and leapfrogged to the top of the leaderboard. Contador finished 24 seconds clear of Alejandro Valverde, who beat Horner's Davitamon-Lotto team-mate Cadel Evans in the sprint for second.
Contador, stage winner in Romandy last year, has been close to wins on a number of occasions already this year, but this victory in Leysin was his first of the season. The young Spaniard feels that although his lead over Valverde is narrow, his team is strong enough to help him defend it through to the concluding time trial in Lausanne, where the race looks set to be decided.
"Contador's aims were the Basque Country and Romandy, with the Classics as purely a learning experience," said Liberty boss Manolo Saiz. "In the Basque Country he rode consistently and I hope this victory gives him a boost before he prepares for the Tour of France."
The stage was a triumph all round for Liberty, who set up Contador perfectly. Jos Antonio Redondo was in the break of the day with Wouter Weylandt (Milram), going clear after 25km of the stage. They got 10 minutes clear, but came to the final climb only with 2-30 in hand on the pack.
Redondo dropped Weylandt but could not stay clear to the finish. However his attack meant his team-mates reached the climb to Leysin fresh as other teams had to chase. With five kilometres to go, Jrg Jaksche and Andrei Kashechkin prepared the way for Contador by attacking, and Contador made his move with four kilometres left, chasing down Redondo and Oscar Sevilla and continuing on alone to victory.
"I didn't know the climb, but Manolo Saiz told us about it on the radio and I knew that the last five kilometres were the hardest," said Contador. "I waited one kilometre for my rivals to get worn out and started my attack at four kilometres to go. I believe we have the strongest team here, with three riders, Jaksche, Kashechkin and myself, all having options of victory."
Stage 3, Bienne-Leysin
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 164.6km in 4.03.41 (40.53kph)
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.24
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
4 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros 0.26
5 Sergio Ghisalberti (Ita) Milram 0.30
6 Miguel A. M. Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak 0.32
7 Andrea Noe (Ita) Liquigas
8 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile
9 Andrei Kashechkin (Kaz) Liberty Seguros
10 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre 0.42
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Wrth 12.35.01
2 Valverde 0.16
3 Jaksche 0.28
5 Perdiguero 0.49
6 Kashechkin 0.53
7 Ghisalberti 0.54
8 Noe 0.57
9 Chris Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Szmyd 1.07
- A memorial to Marco Pantani will be unveiled on the Mortirolo climb near the Italian ski resort of Bormio next Tuesday. The ceremony is due to take place at 3pm local time at a point known as the 'Piaz de l'acqua', eight kilometres up the tough Italian climb.
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