MADRID, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- The first mountain stage of the Vuelta de Espana cycling race on Friday produced the expected big changes on the leadership board as Alejandro Valverde took both the stage and the overall leader's red jersey.
The 167 kilometers between Benalmadena and La Zubia ended on the top of a first category climb and the steep gradient and the high temperatures reduced the peloton to a select group that is destined to battle it out for the overall classification.
In the last kilometers the group was reduced to Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana, along with Chris Froome (Sky), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff).
Inside the last kilometer Rodriguez launched his attack and was closely marked by Froome and Contador, who acquitted himself much better than expected in the wake of his recent broken leg.
As Quintana, the winner of the Giro de Italia, struggled to keep up, Valverde, who is an expert in uphill sprints, was able to overtake Rodriguez, whose desire to win the stage, cost him in the final meters. Valverde crossed the line first with Froome third and Contador in third.
Michael Matthews (orica green Edge) who had led the race finished down the field.
Contador had assured he was not in the Vuelta for the overall classification, but his performance today shows that he is in with a chance, while Froome should be stronger that Valverde in the big mountain stages that lie ahead, although Valverde's Movistar team is by far the strongest in the race.
Firday's stage covers 169 kilometers between Alhendin and Alcaudete and it will once again be hot, so the riders will be grateful that the biggest challenge is a second category climb which shouldn't produce changes in the overall classification.