Astana Teammates Help Contador Hold Off Valverde
With one stage to go, Alberto Contador clings to 14-second advantage.
The Astana team worked hard to keep 2010 Paris-Nice leader Alberto Contador safe from rival Alejandro Valverde in a tense penultimate stage on Saturday.
Although Valverde's second-placed finish snatched six seconds of bonuses in the 220-km sixth stage, Tour de France champion Contador still held a 14-second lead going into Sunday's final day.
Contador's Astana team protected him well from rivals eying a good opportunity to unsettle the Spaniard.
"It was a stage that was hard to control," Astana manager Yvon Sanquer told Reuters.
A group of 23, including big guns like American Levi Leipheimer and Damiano Cunego, broke away early in the day but the Kazakh team never panicked.
"The fact that there were a lot of riders in front made it easier for us, especially since we had Dimitry Fofonov in the breakaway", said Sanquer.
Both the Caisse d'Epargne and Liquigas teams did a lot of the chasing work as Contador's teammates could spare themselves a little.
"Having a lot of riders still in position to win the race at the start of the day meant that everybody took their responsibilities and worked in the peloton to catch the fugitives," Sanquer added.
Contador, who last year cracked in the Paris-Nice penultimate stage partly because he did not have a strong team with him, finished safe in the favorites' group, five seconds behind stage winner Xavier Tondo of Spain.
"We kept the yellow jersey, it was tense but at the end of the day, it was a good stage for us," explained Sanquer.
However, Valverde's sprinting abilities gave him the edge over Contador in the final stretch and the Vuelta champion will still be a threat on Sunday.
"Alejandro is one of the favorites and we knew he would fight everyday," said Sanquer.
"Tomorrow will be another big stage with a lot of attacks to deal with. It will be another tough day," Sanquer predicted.
Sunday's seventh and final stage will be a 119-km trek around Nice with three category-one climbs on the menu.