BOLA DEL MUNDO, Spain (VN) — Denis Menchov attacked and Alberto Contador faltered on the final steeps of the Bola del Mundo climb on Saturday.
Menchov (Katusha) won the 20th stage of the Vuelta a España ahead of Richie Porte (Sky) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), the three strongest men from what had been a 20-rider breakaway. And Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) hung onto his overall lead despite a last-ditch assault from the indomitable Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who left the race leader behind and ground on to finish ninth, 44 seconds ahead of Contador.
But the clearly fatigued red jersey fought back, limited his losses and leads overall runner-up Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 1:16 and third-placed Rodriguez by 1:37 with just one stage to race, a largely flat run from Cercedilla to Madrid.
“I became worried when Valverde tried to attack. I had to respond,” said Contador. “Once I passed that moment, I was closer to winning the Vuelta.”
Valverde said he didn’t know Bola del Mundo through experience, but added that from watching video of the stage, “I knew what to expect.”
“When Purito attacked, I set my own rhythm. In the last kilometer, I pursued Alberto because I didn’t want Purito to take the second place overall away from me,” he added.
As for the stage winner, Menchov pronounced himself “very happy with this victory,” calling it a relief after a number of disappointments.
“That’s life. I never ceased to work hard and be professional but sometimes it just doesn’t work out,” he said. “The Tour de France didn’t go as I expected this year. At the Vuelta, already in stage 1 I realized that I hadn’t recovered from the Tour and the Olympic Games. It wasn’t possible for me to ride at my best level, so I worked for Purito.
“But the Vuelta is a huge achievement. Purito has demonstrated to being a great champion. He kept fighting all the way till the end. He can be happy with himself even though he wanted to win and he was ready for that.”
American Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) finished 15th atop Bola del Mundo, nearly falling off his bike in the process, and moved into seventh overall.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the Vuelta a España.