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Sunday, September 21, 2008
Contador wins Spanish Vuelta; first Spaniard to win cycling's big three

Reuters

MADRID, Spain -- Spaniard Alberto Contador won the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday to become the first rider in 25 years to win all three of cycling's major stage races.

Second overall and 46 seconds behind the 25-year-old Astana rider was Levi Leipheimer of the United States. Carlos Sastre of Spain was third at four minutes and 12 seconds.

"I feel like an enormous weight's been taken off my shoulders," Contador told Spanish television after completing the final stage from San Sebastian de los Reyes to Madrid, won by Dane Matti Breschel.

Alberto Contador
Spain's Alberto Contador celebrates atop the podium Sunday after the 20th and final stage of the Spanish Vuelta.
"They've been calling me the winner of the race since February and that's a lot of pressure.

"But I'm not going to get a big head now, my family know how to keep my feet on the ground."

After winning the Tour de France in 2007 and the Giro d'Italia this year, the Spanish Vuelta was Contador's third victory in a major tour in 15 months.

No rider has taken all three major races since Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1983.

Only five riders -- Hinault, Jacques Anquetil of France, Belgian Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi of Italy and now Contador -- have completed the so-called "grand slam."

Contador, from Pinto near Madrid, based victory in his home race on back-to-back mountain stage wins.

After keeping within range of his rivals in the first two weeks, Contador broke away alone on the ascent of the daunting Alto de L'Angliru climb on stage 13 to take the lead.

The Spaniard then strengthened his overall advantage with his second victory in 24 hours on the Fuentes de Invierno summit finish.

Barring one crash which left him slightly injured, Contador had a trouble-free final week, with American teammate Leipheimer taking a fourth win for the Astana squad in Saturday's mountain time trial.

"I had some tough days in the mountain stages in the Pyrenees, I was worried I couldn't drop my rivals," Contador told reporters on Saturday.

"But when we got to the Angliru, the team set me up perfectly for the stage win and I felt I was on top of my game.

"In any case, victories always feel better when you've had problems.

"Before 2007 I couldn't possibly imagine that I'd win all three major tours in such a short time. Each victory in each of the 'big three' had its own importance, but in any case I'm not going to stop trying to take more wins."