With just one stage to go, Contador moves decisively into the lead by 41 seconds after winning a rolling time trial in northwestern Spain to snatch away the leader’s jersey from Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi), the Basque climber who pipped Contador in Friday’s summit finish at the Alto de Morredero.
Contador was the only rider to break the 21-minute barrier on the course, stopping the clock in 20 minutes, 30 seconds, easily erasing the 13-second head-start that Antón had on Contador going into the race against the clock.
That time was good enough for Contador’s first time trial victory on the season following TT second places at the Volta ao Algarve and Critérium International, some 37 seconds faster than runner-up Janez Brakovic (RadioShack), who crossed the line in 21:03.
Antón put up a good fight, but eventually ceded 54 seconds to Contador to stop the clock at 21:24 for third on the stage and slipped the second overall.
Contador now leads Antón by 41 seconds, with Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia) holding on to third in GC with Brajkovic slotting into fourth.
Rain fell midway through the field and affected riders starting in the middle of the standings. Among those was 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro, who eased up when conditions worsened.
“I wanted to make a good time trial to make a test, but it started to rain and I didn’t want to risk too much,” Pereiro said. “Also, we expect Contador to do well today and maybe take the leader’s jersey, so I didn’t want to go too hard because I will need the legs tomorrow to defend the jersey.”
Another rider whom many expected to give Contador a run for his money was Denis Menchov (Rabobank), but the defending Giro d’Italia champion couldn’t follow in Friday’s summit finish to lose all options for victory.
“I tried to go hard, but once I saw that I wasn’t going to win (the stage), I eased up a bit so not to take too many risks,” Menchov said. “I am pretty satisfied with how the race is going because I am coming off a period of not racing, so I didn’t expect to be at my best here.”
Contador is now poised to become the first rider in the race’s 25-year history to win the event on three occasions.
“The record isn’t really that important to me right now. What’s important is that the progress toward the season’s most important goals is on track and that the team is working well together,” Contador said. “In that sense, I am very satisfied with how this week is going.”
Contador is also on track to win his third stage-race in four starts so far this season. He won at Algarve and Paris-Nice and stumbled slightly at Critérium International when he was struck by allergies, riding to 15th on GC.
The race actually leaves the Castilla y León province for Sunday’s final stage and enters Galicia for the hilly finale from Samos to Santiago de Compostela.