Post Stage Analysis

David Millar Gets The Sword
Millar wins Toledo crono, while Valverde defends lead and Evans moves up

9 Big Photos from Stage 20sirotti

After a series of near-misses this season, David Millar of Garmin-Slipstream took the stage victory in today's final time trial of the Vuelta a España. Millar beat Samuel Sánchez by 5 seconds and Cadel Evans by 9 seconds to take his first win of the season. Held on a hilly, curvaceous circuit around the city of Toledo, the time trial served as the finale for the general classification race in this year's Vuelta. Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his race lead, despite a stellar ride from Samuel Sánchez, who started the day in second overall. Cadel Evans proved the big winner today among the general classification riders as he used his time trial talent to overtake Ivan Basso and secure the third step on the podium.

The departure of Fabian Cancellara to prepare for the World Championship races opened the race for today's stage victory wide open. When the cat is gone, the mice will play. The suspense proved relatively short-lived, when David Millar set an early best time. Millar's time held until the end of the day, though Philippe Gilbert flew through the first 10 kilometers to set the best time at the first intermediate check point. Gilbert almost certainly rode to set a time check for his team-mate Cadel Evans, who had hopes for the podium and a possible stage win in Toledo.

Soon, it was time for the general classification riders to depart, and throughout the top ten many close battles unfolded. In the match-up for ninth, Philip Deignan of Cervélo TestTeam successfully defended his position against a big challenge from yesterday's stage winner Juan José Cobo. Cobo took just over 30 seconds out of the young Irish rider, but fell short of overtaking him in the overall classification. Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d'Epargne, meanwhile, overtook Paolo Tiralongo of Lampre-Ngc and now sits seventh in the general classification. At his best in the high mountains, Tiralongo missed defending his position in the general by a very narrow margin. Just 3 seconds now separate the seventh and eighth place riders.

Robert Gesink of Rabobank put his bad day behind him and rode a solid crono to hold his sixth place. It was not the finish he would have liked at this Vuelta, as he held second in the overall classification until a bad crash and a knee injury ended his hopes. No doubt the young Dutch climber will be back for more grand tour adventuring next season. Climber Ezequiel Mosquera, who is not noted for his crono skills, held his fifth position in the general classification.

The time trial bike has not been kind to Ivan Basso this season, and the race against the watch has always offered a difficult challenge for the lanky, long-armed Italian. So it proved today, as Basso looked rough on the hilly course around Toledo. At the start of the day, Basso held his podium position by the slimmest of margins over Cadel Evans, whose talent against the watch is well-established. By the first intermediate time check, it was clear that Basso had a battle on his hands, and the smooth powerful style of Evans provided a counterpoint to Basso's arm-wrestling with his crono bike. At the first check point, Basso conceded 11 seconds to Evans, by the second, the gap had opened to 40 seconds, and Basso's hopes of the podium had ended. For Evans, who dropped down the classification after a poorly timed-flat and a mis-played chase effort on the road to Sierra Nevada, the podium offered at least some consolation for what might have been. Evans has made a career of near-misses in the grand tours, but now has three podium finishes to his credit.

The battle between Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sánchez never held much suspense in this crono, though Sánchez went out fast in an effort to rattle the race leader. By the finish, Sánchez took 31 seconds off the lead of Valverde and came within 5 seconds of snatching the stage victory from Millar. It was an impressive performance from Sánchez, who is better known for his climbing and descending than for riding against the watch. It was not enough to change the outcome, though, and Alejandro Valverde will ride into Madrid tomorrow in the Gold Jersey. Valverde has finished in the top five overall at the Vuelta on four previous occasions. He was widely touted as the next great stage racer from Spain as a young pro, but for a time it seemed that he would prove more successful in the one day classics than the grand tours. At last, Valverde has taken a grand tour victory after a strong and steady ride throughout this Vuelta.

So Valverde gets the Gold Jersey, while David Millar took home a sword wrought of Toledo steel as his prize for the stage victory today. Samuel Sánchez finished second on the stage by 5 seconds followed by Cadel Evans at 9 seconds. David Moncoutié takes home the Red Jersey for the mountains prize, while André Griepel wins Green for the Points. Tomorrow, the finale in Madrid.

Here is the (almost) final general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Epargne
Samuel Sánchez Euskaltel-Euskadi :55
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto 1:32
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo 2:12
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 4:27
Robert Gesink Rabobank 6:40
Joaquim Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne 9:08
Paolo Tiralongo Lampre-Ngc 9:11
Philip Deignan Cervélo TestTeam 11:08
Juan José Cobo Fuji-Servetto 11:27

The Vuelta a España finishes its three week trip with the traditional parade stage through the streets of Madrid. Their job done, the general classification riders will sip champagne and smile for photos. The sprinters have one more chance for podium kisses, and it should be a hard-fought final kilometer for this final stage. For more details on tomorrow's course, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 20: Toledo – Toledo (ITT)

Terrain Type: Time trial, mainly flat
GC Importance: The last decisive stage. Nothing can be left for tomorrow

The mountains are over for this year’s Vuelta a España and now it’s time for time trial specialists. There are fewer kilometers against the watch in this edition (63rd), and this penultimate stage is far from the typical distances in a Tour de France final TT. There shouldn’t be huge differences among favourites, only small changes in general classification places. However, if the race leader hasn’t got enough time ahead of the second, he will struggle to keep the gold jersey on his shoulders.

Sitting on a hill and washed by the Tagus River, Toledo has been an important city in all the different periods of Spanish History. It was an important town in Roman times, and the Visigoths decided to make it the capital of the kingdom of Spain and Portugal. In the Middle Ages, Toledo was the best example of the coexistence of three cultures (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), all the buildings remaining from this age show this fusion. The city started to decline when Philip II moved the court north to a small village called Madrid. Today it is a top tourist destination and the third World Heritage site visited this year by the Vuelta (after Córdoba and Ávila). The most important rider born here is Federico Martín Bahamontes, el águila de Toledo, who won the first Tour de France for Spain 50 years ago, achieving the first international success in a country devastated by a civil war and suffering the toughest times of the dictatorship.

Today the course starts in a town called Santa María de Benquerencia, created in the 60s to serve as a residential district for Toledo. After 7 flat kilometers through the streets, the riders will take the freeway to Toledo (Vuelta organizers love freeways, I wonder why). At kilometer 13 we'll pass through Santa Bárbara to reach Tagus River and enjoy a beautiful sight of old Toledo. At kilometer 19 comes the only climb of the day, not categorized: only 2 kilometers at an average gradient of 5,7%. Not enough to call the stage a hilly time trial. After the climb there is a short descent and wide roads, few turns and a finish line close to downtown Toledo.

Who to watch

This stage is nothing more than the typical flat time trial in the third week of a Grand Tour, created to make climbers suffer against the watch. It is usually a battle among the favourites and has proven really decisive on numerous occasions in the past. Back to 2002, Aitor Gonzalez won the final time trial in Madrid and took the yellow jersey from Roberto Heras, a climber, to celebrate his only Vuelta a España. We saw exactly the same situation the year before, in 2001 Óscar Sevilla lost the race by less than a minute when Ángel Casero rode a much better time trial in the last stage.

Looking at the short list of GC contenders, it’s not difficult to guess that Cadel Evans is the best of them against the watch. The Australian has finished twice second in the Tour de France partly because of his great performance in final time trials. The course suits him perfectly, but everything will depend on how well he has recovered from three extenuating weeks sitting on a bike. Among the others, Samuel Sanchez and Tom Danielson should be able to get a fistful of seconds that may help them in their GC objectives. Not an easy task for pure climbers, but the short distance will help them limit their losses.

Speaking of the stage victory, we must not forget the real specialists, those who love the biggest gear and riding against the wind. Can anyone beat Fabian Cancellara? Probably not, but he withdrew form the race after stage 13 to prepare the Worlds. As a result of that, someone else will have the chance of winning a time trial In the typical list of specialists we find British David Millar of Garmin and latest world champion Bert Grabsch of Columbia. If they have managed to save energy in the mountain stages, we will sure watch them competing to win this last time trial in Toledo. – Juan Bonilla

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->