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63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 20 - September 20: La Granja de San Ildefonso - Alto de Navacerrada (ITT), 17.1km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

17:58 CEST   
The penultimate stage is once again a time trial. Unlike its traditional flat affair close to Madrid, this one is an uphill finish atop the Alto de Navacerrada. It is the same category one climb used the day before. But the riders will be going up on the other – the Segovian – side. From the start in La Granja de San Ildefonso it is 17.1 kilometres to the finish.

Even though La Granja de San Ildefonso is used for the first time, it has close ties with the Vuelta. The winning crystal trophy is manufactured here each year in the Real Fábrica de Cristales.

15:00 CEST   
Hello and welcome back to the next-to-last stage of this year's Vuelta. It is the last chance for the climbers to show their stuff, as we have a mountain time trial this year.

15:02 CEST   
The riders face 17.1km today. It starts out easy, with the first two km being flat. The next eight km start going up, more easily than not. And then the final seven km defnitely go up, all the way to the top. We don't have any numbers on gradients, but saw something about 7.7%.

15:06 CEST   
The first rider was scheduled to go off at 14:45, and in fact, the first two (Dmitriy Muravyev and Assan Bazayev) and the last two (Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador) are all Astana riders. By the way, Muravyev has won two time trials in his career, and they were both the national championships: 2003 and 2005.

15:10 CEST   
We have a number of riders out on the course now, and we will let you know as soon as we get the first intermediate times. We will have two intermediate time checks, the first at 9 km, just before the climbing starts, and then at 12 km, when the riders have really started to go up.

15:15 CEST   
And here are the first intermediate times. Kevin Van Impe of Quick Step has the best time at 9km, which is 11:33. That is 11 seconds faster than Muravyev and Gerolsteiner's Oscar Gatto.

15:20 CEST   
Thomas Vaitkus of Astana is taking off about now. He told Cyclingnews that "I am tired after three weeks." When asked if he could find a way to relax, he said yes and showed his Ipod. We didn't get to see what it was he was listening to, though.

15:23 CEST   
We have our first riders through to the second intermediate time check, and it looks like we are going to have some pretty big time gaps today. Muravyev has the best time so far, 20:42. Stephane Poulhies (AG2R) is 52 seconds back, and Bazayev is already 1:53 down.

15:25 CEST   
Our man at the race, Bjorn Haake, tells us that it looks like half and half road bikes and time trial bikes.

15:28 CEST   
Contador should take to the course as the last rider at 17:14, and should be in at about 17:54 – or sooner. The organizers are looking at about 40 minutes for the course.

15:30 CEST   
Mauro Santambrogio of Lampre has the new best time at the second check, 20:35. That is five seconds faster than Van Impe.

15:32 CEST   
As usual, the riders are going off at one-minute intervals, with the Top Twenty having two minutes.

15:37 CEST   
The new best time at the first check now belongs to the appropriately-named Dimitri Champion of Bouygues Telecom. His time was 11.17, which is 14 seconds faster than Tinkoff's Pavel Brutt, who is now in second.

15:38 CEST   
Who will take it today? The heavy betting has to be on Alberto Contador, and a number of people to be surprised to see Astana riders take all the top positions.

15:40 CEST   
Astana manager Johan Bruyneel told Haake today, “I think Contador will finish ahead of Levi, but there is always a chance that someone has a bad day.”

Did he ask Leipheimer to hold back today, to ensure that Contador would win? He couldn't do that, Bruyneel said, “not in a time trial.”

15:43 CEST   
Mikhael Ignatiev set a new best time at the first time check (11:04), while Champion has set a new best time at the second check.

15:45 CEST   
We have our first finishers! Muravyev came in at 37:01, which is 45 seconds faster than Van Impe. That gives us a mark to look at for the rest of the field.

15:47 CEST   
Navacerrada has had a mountaintop finish in the recent past, when Andrei Zintchenko won in 1998. That was a regular stage, though, and not a time trial.

15:50 CEST   
Santambrogio has now come in at 36:35, which is 26 seconds faster than Muravyev.

15:54 CEST   
Christophe Kern of Credit Agricole is now leading. His final time was 36:20. Ignatiev came in six seconds slower.

15:55 CEST   
Navacerrada is a ski resort, and fortunately the riders are not going to have winter weather today. Our man at the scene, Bjorn Haake tells us that it is “baking hot” again, and that there are very few clouds. But it is cooler up on the mountain, not even 20° at the top.

16:00 CEST   
Haake is runnng around weighing bikes, apparently. Sebastien Hinault is on a road bike which weighs 7.42 kg, while Noval's is 7.14. Van Avermaet's is 7.22.

16:02 CEST   
Some of the riders and staff took advantage of the late starting time to do a little sightseeing this morning. Cyclingnews spotted Quick Step Directeur Sportif Wilfried Peeters at the Segoiva Aquaduct.

16:07 CEST   
Sebastian Lang of Gerolsteiner is now on the course. He is a time trial specialist, but the flat kind. He will be riding for Silence-Lotto next year, along with Gerolsteiner teammate Bernhard Kohl.

16:09 CEST   
We wonder what Sebastian Minardis is up to. He was spotted this morning at an ATM, getting some money from a Santander Bank – was his account by sponsor Cofidis empty? Teammates Leonardo Duque and Fernandez Bingen circled around on their TT bikes waiting for him...

16:13 CEST   
This mountain may look familiar, and that is because it is. The riders went up it yesterday, but on the other side, the south side. Today we are going up the north side, with “Las Siete Revueltas”, or the seven switchbacks.

16:14 CEST   
"Seppel" Lang has now finished, in a time of 36:44, which puts him fifth at the moment. He rode a regular road bike and not the TT model.

16:19 CEST   
Martin Velits of Milram is in third place at the moment. He just crossed the finish line with a time of 36:28. His twin brother is Peter, who is U-23 World Champion, but not for much longer....

16:22 CEST   
Vasili Kiryienka is underway now He was the one yesterday who did all the work and ended up second. His bad luck is continuing -- shortly after the start he lost his water bottle. He may notice that on this hot day.

16:24 CEST   
Reimund Dietzen, DS at Gerolsteiner, told Haake that Olive Zaugg (10th overall), has mounted a 23 gear, but it is unlikely he will need it. “I did it this morning with a 21, so they should be ok with a 19. Contador may use a 21, since he rides a higher frequency.”

16:25 CEST   
Popovych comes to the steepest section and throw his water bottle away on purpose -- got to get ride of every unnecessary gram of weight possible. He only has a few more km to go, so he ought to be ok.

16:28 CEST   
La Granja de San Ildefonso is about 34 mile northwest of Madrid. It is best known for a fantastic palace, “La Granja,” which Philip V had built in 1721-1724.

16:31 CEST   
Dominique Cornu of Silence Lotto has now passed the man who started ahead of him, Erik Zabel. No surprise there.

16:34 CEST   
Cornu in fact has the fastest time at the 12 km time check. Will he be able to hold his speed in the last few steep kms?

16:35 CEST   
Haake says he is following Astana's Sergio Paulinho, who is Portugese national TT champion. The first 500 meters of the course are cobblestone, but that didn't slow Paulinho down at all.

16:36 CEST   
And we have a new best time, from Tinkoff's Nikita Eskov. He crossed the finish line with a time of 36:13.

16:39 CEST   
And another leader with a best time! Jose Ruiz Sanchez of Andalucia, with a time of 36:12.

16:41 CEST   
You know, there is one problem with these mountaintop finishes -- how do you get back down? Well, the riders today are taking the easy way. They simpy turn around and ride back down the same way they came up. That makes for two-way traffic on the course. Fortunately, Haake tells us, everybody is paying attention and there haven't been any unfortunate encounters yet (and of course we hope there won't be any) .

He further tells us that there are lots of fans out along the side of the road watching things today.

16:43 CEST   
Andrey Grivko of Milram has set new best intermediate times.

16:45 CEST   
Cornu is in and has yet another new best time: 36.01. Will we see a time of under 36 minutes today?

16:48 CEST   
Perhaps we should have asked if we will see a time under 35 minutes. Tinkoff's Evgeny Petrov just blasted through in a final time of 35:35.

16:49 CEST   
And Sandy Casar has a new best time at the first intermediate time check.

16:51 CEST   
Ruben Perez of Euskaltel just put in a time of 35:15.

16:52 CEST   
This isn't the only race going on today. Two others are already over, and we can tell you who won them.
Petacchi won the Memorial Viviana Manservisi over in Italy. In Poland, Robert Förster of Gerolsteiner won the final stage, with CSC's Jen Voigt taking the overall titile.

16:59 CEST   
Andreas Klöden of Astana has taken the lead at the second intermediate time check. His time was 19:17, which is nine seconds faster than the second-placed Sandy Casar.

17:04 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde will be the next to take to the course. After him, we will only have five more riders to go. Obviously we are in the big names now.

And he's off!

17:06 CEST   
Robert Gesink of Rabobank is the next to go. The young Dutchman is riding his very first Grand Tour, and looks to finish fifth. That shows promise for the future!

17:08 CEST   
Valverde is up out of the saddle, powering hs way along. Gesink is in a flatter section and remains seated.

17:08 CEST   
Mosquera, the fourth overall, is the next to take to the course.

17:10 CEST   
Carlos Sastre crosses himself as he prepares to make his ride. Things haven't been easy for him lately, what with his decision to change teams, and certain remarks which he may or may not have made to the press.

17:11 CEST   
Andreas Klöden comes in with a new best time, 35:03. Right behind him is Sandy Casar, with a time of 35:17.

17:12 CEST   
The next up is Levi Leipheimer. Will he win the stage?

17:14 CEST   
Contador, resplendent in gold and turquoise, loosens his legs as he waits for his start.

17:17 CEST   
Contador was, of course, the last one to take the course today. We had 131 riders at the start today, down from the 170 who started the race three weeks ago.

17:21 CEST   
Valverde had the second best time at the first time check, only two seconds down.

17:23 CEST   
Well, well, Valverde sets a new best time at the second time check, beating Klöden's time by a whopping 12 seconds!

17:25 CEST   
At km 8, we have Leipheimer with a time of 10:32 and Contador with a time of 10:43.

17:26 CEST   
That makes them, of course, first and second at that point.

17:27 CEST   
Bruseghin is the first to smash the 35 minute mark. He has blasted his way up this mountain in a time of 34:37.

17:28 CEST   
Now Leipheimer is up out of the saddle, as he goes up this climb.

17:29 CEST   
Sastre comes through the second time check in second place, at 19:03, which is only eight seconds slower than Valverde.

17:30 CEST   
Valverde looks very smooth as he makes his way up.

17:31 CEST   
Leipheimer has blasted the best time at the second time check, going across in 18.21. We are beginning to think he is going to win this thing today...

17:31 CEST   
Contador is going 22 to 23 km/h.

17:33 CEST   
Contador is now second at the second time check, with a time of 18:32.

17:35 CEST   
A handful of fans run into the road around Sastre, waving flags and otherwise potentially distracting him. They mean it nicely, but folks, please don't do this!

17:36 CEST   
Moncoutie has set a new best time, 34:15.

17:37 CEST   
Valverde is on a steep section now, but he is still calmly working his way to the finish line.

17:37 CEST   
And it is a new best time for Valverde -- 33.37!

17:39 CEST   
3 km to go for Contador....

17:40 CEST   
Lot of people out in the road today. There is the antler man again, with the US flag. Leipheimer doesn't even give him as a glance as he goes by.

17:41 CEST   
Gesink comes in with the fifth best time of the day so far, 34:43.

17:41 CEST   
Sastre goes under the last km marker.

17:42 CEST   
Mosquera comes through with a time of 34:21, third best so far.

17:43 CEST   
Sastre makes his way through the mobs before finally getting to the section where the barriers are.

17:44 CEST   
Now Leipheimer is among the masses. A burly guard shoves one "fan" back in the nick of time.

17:44 CEST   
Sastre crosses the line in 34:08, which is currently second best.

17:45 CEST   
Leipheimer is next, and we expect a new best time from him.

17:45 CEST   
And the American doesn't let us down -- his time is 33:06. That ought to give him his second time trial stage win in this Vuelta.

17:46 CEST   
Contador is now in the dangerous fan-filled section. Whew, he survived it.

17:47 CEST   
He is up again out of the saddle, still going up the last few hundred meters.

17:47 CEST   
It won't be a stage win for the Spaniard, but he's got the overall win in his pocket.

17:48 CEST   
It is second place for Contador, with a time of 33:37. He heaves a huge sigh of relief.

17:49 CEST   
That's it for today, folks! The stage went just about as we expected it would. Join us again tomorrow afternoon and see which of the few sprinters who are left in the race can take the stage in Madrid. There's no question about who will take the overall title!

Provisional results

1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
2 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank
5 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis
6 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
7 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
10 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana
General classification after stage 20
1 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank
4 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
6 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis
9 Egoi Martínez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre

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