Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) powered his way to an uphill sprint finish today on the third stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. The steep rise to the finish suited the Spanish national champion's characteristics perfectly, as he has garnered several wins in the past in this fashion.
The stage started off at a very high pace, thanks to a tailwind, with the Astana-controlled peloton not letting the breakaway of Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ricardo Serrano (Fuji-Servetto), Lucas Euser (Garmin-Slilpstream), Serge Pauwels (Cervelo TestTeam), Raúl Santamaría (Burgos Monumental), and Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) get any distance.
Once again, having Mancebo posed a threat to the overall lead as he is dangerous because he is a very solid rider, having won this race twice in the past, and it would be hard to make up time on him if he took an advantage to the finish.
Caisse d'Epargne took control of the peloton to put the finishing touches on reeling in the breakaway before setting up their leader for a win.
Valverde delivered for his team, beating Rubén Plaza (Liberty Seguros) and Javier Moreno (Andalucía-Cajasur) to the line.
Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador (Astana) rolled safely over the line in the front group to retain their current stranglehold on the lead in first and second places.
Contador, the current two-time defending champion, instead of going for the win himself, has vowed to work for Leipheimer over the next few days to secure the win for him.
If successful, it will be excellent repayment for Leipheimer's work in helping Contador secure his three Grand Tour wins over the last year and a half.
It is important to remember that when Contador won the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain, Leipheimer was there on the podium with him. That takes complete selflessness to be able to make the podium, but in the service of a teammate instead of going for it yourself.
Tomorrow's fourth stage takes in two first-category climbs and will make for a tough day of racing and a tough day of controlling the pace for Astana.