Cycle//Vuelta a España
by Marcus Leach
Alberto Contador has all but secured his third Vuelta a España after he beat nearest rival Chris Froome on the final mountain stage, claiming the honour's ahead of the Britain.
Credit to Froome who tried to attack and claw back valuable time, but his efforts fell short as the Spaniard tracked him up the final climb and overtook him in the last 500 meters to go on and win the stage and with it the Vuelta.
Having previously won the Vuelta in 2008 and 2012 it would take a disaster for Contador not to add a third title to his collection, capping a remarkable comeback having broken his leg at the Tour de France earlier this year.
Team Sky's Froome is over a minute and a half behind the race leader, although he is 58 seconds ahead of third-placed Alejandro Valverde, so looks set to finish second. As with Contador, Froome pulled out of the Tour de France after crashing and breaking a bone, so he too can be proud of his efforts here.
The leading general classification riders had sat in the peloton for most of the 185.7km stage from Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil to Puerto de Ancares as a four-man breakaway, involving Przemyslaw Niemiec, Jerome Coppel, Maxime Mederel and Wouter Poels opened a ten minute advantage.
However, with the incline increasing the peloton reeled them in just before the final climb - the brutal 12km category one Puerto de Ancares. It left the top five general classification riders battling it out and, after Joaquim Rodriguez's attack had been reeled in, Froome pressed on.
The 2013 Tour de France champion accelerated and managed to shake off the others but could not remove Contador from his back wheel. He bided his time and struck in the final kilometre to take his second stage win of the 2014 race by 16 seconds.
"We knew that Sky wanted to control things to stir things up and to try to shake Alberto. However, everyone else but Alberto was dropped and I think Alberto played his cards excellently. He never lost his cool and had the situation totally under control," said Steven De Jongh, sports director at Tinkoff-Saxo after the stage.
"On the final kilometre, he went for the stage win and in one fierce attack, he quickly created the gap and took a beautiful victory consolidating his lead. Of course, the race isn't won just yet. There's a time trial tomorrow and even though it's short, you can't rule out accidents. Now, we're waiting for the weather report and we're going out tomorrow morning to check out the technical spots on the course."
Stage Twenty Result
1. Alberto Contador 5hrs 11mins 43secs
2. Chris Froome +16
3. Alejandro Valverde +57
4. Joaquim Rodriguez +1:18
5. Fabio Aru +1:21
6. Warren Barguil +2:51
7. Giampaolo Caruso +2:55
8. Samuel Sanchez +2:58
9. Daniel Navarro +3:15
10. Damiano Caruso +3:20
1. Alberto Contador 81hrs 12mins 13secs
2. Chris Froome +1:37
3. Alejandro Valverde +2:35
4. Joaquim Rodriguez +3:57
5. Fabio Aru +4:46
6. Samuel Sanchez +10:07
7. Daniel Martin +10:24
8. Warren Barguil +12:13
9. Daniel Navarro +13:09
10. Damiano Caruso +13:15