Astana's heavy hitters, Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador, polished off the final stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon by protecting their first and second places overall on a blisteringly quick stage.
Animating the day, though, was Caisse d'Epargne. It's leader, Alejandro Valverde, scored his second win of this race on an uphill sprint finish, similar to his win two days ago.
Only two riders, Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and Mikel Ilundain Tirapu (Orbea), managed to escape the flying peloton, which averaged a mind-bending 46 km/h (29mph) all day. Astana had firm control of the proceedings.
Caisse d'Epargne, however, took over in the hopes of getting another stage win, this time for their sprinter Jose Joaquim Rojas.
But several attacks near the finish line at the end of the day saw Alejandro Valverde the best rider from that team to respond and took a firm grasp on the finish. He beat out his own teammate Rojas and Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Leipheimer and Contador rolled across the line in the group two seconds behind Valverde to secure Astana's dominance of the overall classification. Valverde, however, scored not only two stage wins, but also the sprint points and mountain points jerseys.
After the race, Contador said, "I had no problem at all helping Leipheimer. This week has served us to form a group ahead of the more important race and I am happy to have given a hand to Leipheimer, who is usually helping me out.”
This race proved to solidify the Astana duo's relationship and will serve to make the team stronger. Leipheimer will race again at the Giro d'Italia in May, one of the Grand Tours that Contador won last year.
Contador will not participate, however. The original plan was to let Lance Armstrong take a run at the podium, but with his broken collarbone hampering his training, it is very likely that Astana will want Leipheimer to go for the podium, after standing on the podium at both the Tour de France and Tour of Spain behind Contador.
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