Alberto Contador launched seven attacks on the five-kilometre climb of Arrate in the Tour of Spain yesterday but could not shake stage three winner and new overall leader Alejandro Valverde.
Racing for the first time since a doping suspension, Contador's repeated accelerations on Arrate's tree-lined slopes helped the Saxo Bank rider shred the lead group to just four riders. But Movistar's Valverde overpowered the lead group on the Tour's first mountain-top stage finish, narrowly beating another Spaniard, Joaquim Rodriguez, with Britain's Chris Froome third and Contador fourth. Valverde will take an 18-second advantage over team-mate Benat Intxausti into the fourth stage, with Rodriguez third, 19 seconds behind, Froome fourth, a second further back, and Contador fifth, 24 seconds off the pace.
In the first major shake-up of the Tour's main contenders, last year's winner, Juan Jose Cobo, lost 50 seconds on the mountain, while two-time winner Russian Denis Menchov fell back nearly two minutes. "It's incredibly difficult to beat a rider like Rodriguez, he deserved the win as much as me, but maybe he was a little bit over-confident and I just managed to do it," Valverde said. "Movistar have won the opening team time trial and this stage as well, we've kept the lead for the last three days, we can be more than happy with what we've achieved."
Valverde, who himself returned to competitive cycling in January this year after serving a two-year doping ban, added he was delighted to be in front, particularly considering he had not originally intended to start the race. Contador clearly made the biggest impression on Valverde up the Arrate but Froome, whose Sky team-mate Mark Cavendish confirmed yesterday he would ride in next month's Tour of Britain, was identified as the major threat.
"Contador was definitely the strongest but Rodriguez and I could get back up to him every time he attacked," Valverde said. "It [the climb] cost Froome a little bit, but with that time trial in the second week it's going to be very difficult to keep him under control."
* A federal judge in Austin, Texas, threw out Lance Armstrong's lawsuit against the US Anti-Doping Agency yesterday, a decision that allows the agency's drug case against the seven-time Tour de France winner to move ahead. Armstrong, who has repeatedly denied doping, claimed in his lawsuit that USADA's arbitration process violates his constitutional rights. US District Judge Sparks dismissed the lawsuit as "speculative".