BMC Racing Team rider Philippe Gilbert of Belgium crosses the finish line to win the 19th stage of the Tour of Spain “La Vuelta” cycling race between Penafiel and La Lastrilla, September 7, 2012. (REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu)
By Alasdair Fotheringham
LA LASTRILLA, Spain, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Belgium’s world championship favorite Philippe Gilbert claimed a second stage win in the Tour of Spain on Friday while Alberto Contador stayed on course for a second outright victory in the race.
Gilbert powered out of a front group of about 35 riders some 500 meters from the finish on a shallow but steady uphill climb.
Britain’s Ben Swift tried to follow the 30-year-old BMC rider but could not match the pace, with Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde and Dani Moreno storming past him to take second and third respectively.
Already victorious in Barcelona on stage nine, Gilbert said his second win in Spain confirmed he was on track for his big target – the world championship road-race in the Netherlands on Sept. 23.
“For sprinters, this race is too hard to prepare for the world championship but for me it is perfect,” Gilbert told reporters.
“I don’t know if my condition is better now or in Barcelona, it has been a hard Vuelta with a lot of transfers.
“But this is just the build-up I need.”
After a very slow first four hours of racing, Gilbert said the finale over several cobbled sections and with tight corners had been “very tense”.
“Fortunately the bunch split, there were only about 90 guys in the front and I had three team mates with me.
“(Team mate) Mauro (Santambrogio of Italy) crashed but the other two did a perfect job keeping the right tempo and I could finish off their work well.”
Race leader Contador lost 17 seconds to second-placed Valverde after his rival snatched time bonuses and the front group split on the final uphill.
“I hope I’m not wrong, but I don’t think it’ll be important,” said the Spaniard.
Contador heads into the race’s final high mountains stage on Saturday to the Bola del Mundo summit finish with a one minute 35 seconds advantage over Valverde, while Joaquim Rodriguez is third, at two minutes and 21 seconds.
The Saxo Bank-Tinkoff leader, who lives near Saturday’s finish and trains regularly in the area, said he did not know the Bola del Mundo climb well because it was “too hard, normally I avoid it.
“I’m sure they’ll attack me from the gun, I’ll have to be careful.”
Following Contador’s return to racing after his doping suspension ended on Aug. 5, victory on Sunday in his home town of Madrid would net him a fifth Grand Tour win, including the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009 and the 2008 Vuelta.