Madrid: The first mountain stage of the Vuelta de Espana cycling race produced the expected big changes to the leadership board as Alejandro Valverde took both the stage and the overall leader's red jersey.
The 167 kilometre-stage between Benalmadena and La Zubia Thursday ended on the top of a first category climb with the steep gradient and high temperatures reducing the peloton to a select group, reports Xinhua.
In the last kilometres the group was reduced to Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana, along with Chris Froome (Sky), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff).
Inside the last kilometre, Rodriguez launched his attack and was closely marked by Froome and Contador, who acquitted himself much better than expected in the wake of his recent broken leg.
As Quintana, the winner of the Giro de Italia, struggled to keep up, Valverde, who is an expert in uphill sprints, was able to overtake Rodriguez, whose desire to win the stage, cost him in the final metres. Valverde crossed the line first with Froome second and Contador in third.
Contador had assured he was not in the Vuelta for the overall classification, but his performance showed that he is in with a chance, while Froome should be stronger than Valverde in the big mountain stages that lie ahead, although Valverde's Movistar team is by far the strongest in the race.
Firday's stage covers 169 kilometres between Alhendin and Alcaudete and it will once again be hot, so the riders will be grateful that the biggest challenge is a second category climb which shouldn't produce changes in the overall classification.