Valverde wins stage; Leipheimer leads

Updated: March 25, 2009, 1:42 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN ISIDRO, Spain -- Alejandro Valverde of Spain won the third stage of the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon race, while Levi Leipheimer of the United States retained the overall lead.

Valverde covered the 98-mile mountain stage in 3 hours, 28 minutes, 16 seconds to edge Spanish pair Ruben Plaza and Javier Moreno, who finished with the same time.

Leipheimer maintained a 16-second advantage over Astana teammate Alberto Contador with an overall time of 8:33.26 after both riders finished in a pack.

"It was a very aggressive and fast stage, but in some way comfortable for me, though not for my team," Leipheimer said of his team's effort to keep him in front. "They have worked very well, because it was not simple to control with this finish."

Contador said he would help keep Leipheimer in front until Friday's finish.

"We are professional, and for me, if he wins it's like I did," the 2007 Tour de France champion and Astana team leader said.

Valverde made a last-second push to the finish line.

"The stage was a very fast one and we had to work a lot to catch the breakers," Valverde said.

Thursday's fourth stage is a 90-mile ride from Santa Maria del Paramo to Laguna de las Peces.

Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong left the race Monday after fracturing his collarbone in a crash. He had surgery Wednesday in Austin, Texas.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press