Alejandro Valverde came close to cracking on the 2009 Vuelta a Espana’s third summit finish on stage 14, but finally recovered to strengthen his overall lead.

The Caisse d’Epargne leader said afterwards that he is now 70 percent sure of taking his first ever major Tour, and it’s hard to disagree. Despite nearly cracking on the brutally steep final climb of La Pandera, the Spaniard fought back strongly after almost all his top rivals attacked him.

A move half-way up La Pandera begun by Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), then followed up by Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) saw Valverde struggle and lose nearly 30 seconds in less than a kilometre. Then when Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) also dropped the Spaniard, it looked as if Valverde was in serious trouble.

But the Caisse d’Epargne rider slowly regained ground and began catching and passing each of his rivals in turn. First to be caught and passed was Evans, then Basso, and finally Valverde reached Gesink with about two kilometres to go. Of the favourites, only Mosquera and Sanchez managed to stay out of Valverde’s clutches.

Valverde even dropped Gesink close to the line to increase his lead over the Dutchman by a few seconds, whilst Sanchez has moved up to third overall. Incredibly, in what had looked like the worse moment of the race so far for Valverde, the Valverde has come out on top again.

The overall classification will now probably remain stable until the race’s final four days, which include two mountainous stages and a 30 kilometre time trial in Toledo.

In all the fuss over Valverde and co, it almost went un-noticed that Italy’s Damiano Cunego (Lampre) had taken his second mountain top win of the Vuelta. Cunego formed part of a nine-rider day-long break and then soloed away for victory some 15 kilometres from the line.

The Italian admitted later that he had deliberately lost time on the stage to Sierra Nevada in order to have more chance of getting in a break, a tactic that paid off in full.

Results

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage 14, Granada-La Pandera, 157km

1. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre in 4-04-23


2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank at 2-23

3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-08

4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 3-10

5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 3-22

6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 3-26

7. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 3-40

8. Gonzalo Rabunal (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 3-46

9. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 3-48

10. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto at same time.

Overall classification after stage 14

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne


2. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank

3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi

4. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas

5. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia

Alejandro Valverde dropped, Vuelta a Espana 2009, stage 14

Alejandro Valverde suffers on stage 14, before miraculously recovering to overhaul his rivals

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Latest news and features

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Cycling Weekly’s full coverage index

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Unlucky Horner crashes out of Vuelta

Wegelius abandons the Vuelta

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Who will win?

Vinokourov back with Astana for the Vuelta

Britain and Ireland well represented in Vuelta

2009 Vuelta route favours climbers

Cycling Weekly’s Rider Profiles: Index

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage reports

Stage 13: Unlucky Evans loses time in Vuelta’s high mountains

Stage
12: Hesjedal wins second Vuelta stage for Garmin


Stage 11: Farrar takes first grand tour victory

Stage 10: Gerrans takes breakaway victory

Stage nine: Cesar wins as Valverde leads in la Vuelta

Stage eight: Cunego takes first mountain stage of 2009 Vuelta

Stage seven: Cancellara outpaces Millar in TT

Stage six: Bozic surprises sprint rivals to take win

Stage five: Greipel wins again and takes race lead

Stage four: Greipel wins after big crash wipes out bunch

Stage three: Henderson wins stage

Stage two: Ciolek takes first road stage, Hammond third

Stage one: Cancellara wins Vuelta opener

Vuelta a Espana 2009: Photos

Stage 11 photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage 10 photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage nine photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage eight photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage six photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage five photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage three photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson

Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson

 

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