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September 26, 2017

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I will hold off Contador in Vuelta: Rodriguez

MADRID -- The toughest stage over, Spanish Vuelta leader Joaquin Rodriguez believes he can resist any challenge from Alberto Contador during the final week to win his first major cycling race.

Rodriguez is 28 seconds ahead of his fellow Spaniard going into the final five legs of the 21-stage race. His confidence was further boosted by beating Contador in Monday's grueling mountain climb.

"Yesterday was no doubt the most difficult day that I've had here. Having overcome that stage has definitely helped," Rodriguez said Tuesday. "It's difficult to imagine I'd be in this position on the second rest day, especially after the time trial. But today I've got more confidence in myself, and I've been capable of resisting Alberto's attacks since the start.

"Alberto is Alberto, so he can still win," he added.

Contador returned from a lengthy doping ban last month, and the layoff has taken its toll.

"It's evident my form isn't what it has been on other occasions. I lack some punch," the two-time Tour de France champion said. "I'm conscious of how difficult it's going to be to win."

The 30-year-old Contador believes Saturday's penultimate stage — another testing mountain finish at Bola del Mundo — is his last hope of adding a second Vuelta title to his 2008 success.

"It's complicated because there isn't much race left, like the Tour in 2011 when there was mountain stages and a time trial in the last week," Contador said. "In the Vuelta, these possibilities aren't there. But (Saturday's stage) is there and I'll go for it."

The 187-kilometer (116-mile) 17th stage on Wednesday starts in Santander with a mountain finish at Fuente De.

Alejandro Valverde of Spain is the next closest, 2:58 behind Rodriguez. Tour runner-up Christopher Froome of Britain is nearly 5 minutes behind in fourth.

The 67th edition of the Spanish race ends in Madrid on Sunday.

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