THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SEGOVIA, Spain — Philippe Gilbert won the 19th stage of the Spanish Vuelta ahead of Alejandro Valverde, who managed to shave valuable seconds off overall leader Alberto Contador’s advantage before the deciding penultimate leg.
The Belgian cyclist held off Spanish trio Valverde, Daniel Moreno and Joaquin Rodriguez on the slight climb to the finish line to take the 178-kilometre (111-mile) ride in 4 hours, 56 minutes, 25 seconds. It was the BMC Racing cyclist’s second win at the 67th edition of the Spanish race.
Contador managed to just about stick with the leaders as they pushed up to the finish at La Lastrilla to cross the line 3 seconds later. Contador wears the overall leader’s red jersey with a time of 77:21:49.
Valverde, the 2009 winner, cut the leader’s overall advantage by 17 seconds to 1:35. Rodriguez is now 2:21 behind in third before Saturday’s mountain stage, a punishing 170.7-kilometre (106.1-mile) trek that features five climbs including the special category finish at Bola del Mundo at 2,247-meters (7,372-feet).
"Tomorrow’s stage is very tough and very threatening," said SaxoBank’s Contador, who is on the verge of a fifth victory in cycling’s major events as he returns from a doping ban. "All the elements are there to make it memorable."
Valverde certainly needs an impressive performance to keep Contador from his second Vuelta win when the 21-stage Spanish classic ends Sunday in Madrid, with a straightforward stage that is merely a precession. Friday’s second-place finish put the Movistar rider in good spirits for the challenge.
"I’m relaxed about tomorrow," Valverde said. "Tomorrow’s going to be a tough day, it’s down to the last battle. Everything can stay the same, or the podium could swap around — it could be a crazy day.
"But with Alberto leading it’s tough to imagine improving the position."