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Valverde closing in on Spanish Vuelta title

9/12/2006

CALAR ALTO, Spain -- Alejandro
Valverde took a step toward overall victory in the Spanish Vuelta when he finished second behind compatriot Igor Anton in
stage 16.

After Anton attacked from a small group of favorites three
kilometers from the summit finish in Calar Alto for a solo win, Valverde
outsprinted arch-rival Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan for
second place, 23 seconds behind.

Vinokourov moved into second overall, 1 minute, 42 seconds behind
Valverde, replacing his compatriot Andrey Kashechkin after making repeated but fruitless attacks on
the final 20-kilometer climb of Calar Alto.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre, whose initial charge on the climb
sank Kashechkin, lost five seconds but remains third overall,
tied on time with Vinokourov.

"Little by little I'm getting there." Valverde, who took
over the lead on stage nine, told reporters. "Today I resisted well when Vinokourov attacked and we even
broke away briefly."

"I asked Vinokourov to collaborate so we could distance our
other rivals, but he refused," he said. "Even so, I've still increased my advantage over all of them
barring Vinokourov, so that's good."

Anton, 23, was able to take advantage of the close marking
between the favorites to take the first win of his career.

"My [Euskaltel-Euskadi] teammate Samuel [Sanchez] was in
the Valverde group and that helped me open up a lead," Anton said. "I've always been a climber, but never expected to succeed
so early in my career."

Wednesday's stage from Adra to Granada is also mountainous,
with a first category climb close to the finish.

The race ends on Sept. 17 in Madrid.