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La Vuelta: Golden Power Poll!

Time to start compiling lists with "information" attached to each entry, looking vaguely like an assessment of a major race. Yep, it's Vuelta Power Poll time! No trend arrows, this time...

1. Alberto Contador, Astana

Yep, he conceded nearly a minute to his teammate and will now spend the next couple days sandbagging endlessly about how he's only here to work for his team. Tanned, rested and ready... does anyone think 47" is somehow a significant lead? Before the Pyrenees and Angliru?

2. Levi Leipheimer, Astana

Fabulous win today. Leipheimer is truly a grand tour time trial ace. That won't save his ass on the nasty climbs upcoming, where he can do well but probably won't win, and might have some dark moments. Also, while Levi has done well to hold his form for week three, it's a little unusual to see him busting out of the gate. Either he's on unbelievable form, or he's departing from his usual approach, i.e. taking risks. We'll see.

3. Carlos Sastre, CSC

Good start for the new Katyusha Cervelo star: 15th on the time trial, 90 seconds down, is a pretty manageable loss and, unlike Levi, shows that if he's got it, he's saving it. Of course, for all we know he may be on his last legs, after an exhausting Tour. But if he were to seriously contest this Vuelta, his current placing is about where you'd expect to find him.

4. Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d'Epargne

Valverde's stage effort today was a nice little microcosm of what I think of his long-term chances: off to yet another fast start (see July), only to run out of gas on stages that were probably just over his head to begin with. Twice now we've seen Valverde come flying out of the gate, even after being schooled on this point by CSC only six weeks ago. In the Cholet time trial (Tour stage 4), Valverde was 22nd, 1.30 off the pace and 1' behind Cadel Evans, a fine result. He also won stage 1. Great first week. He then conceded a chunk in the Pyrenees, hung on valiantly in the Alps, and slipped further in the final time trial... while Sastre and CSC were mastering their third-week assault. So if this week looks like his start to the Tour, that's not exactly a good thing.

I'm gonna make shit up here: I think these early time trials are playing into his fear of blowing it in the chrono. He knows it's not his strong suit, so he overcompensates with a stronger than expected effort and positions himself very well. In the process he goes too deep into the red. Who knows, maybe he has it figured out. But until I see otherwise, he'll continue to look like a classics racer trying to figure out three-week racing.

5. Robert Gesink, Rabobank

Like Sastre, Gesink conceded a manageable amount of time in the time trial, now down 2.30 to the leaders. For a climbing ace who skipped the Tour, this isn't much, assuming he didn't have to dig too deeply to get to this point. The question remains, can he perform in a grand tour? But he's one of the most intriguing people in the race so far, easily.

6. Igor Anton, Euskaltel

How much of a climber is he? Like Gesink, it's going to be really fun finding out. They're about equal on GC at the moment, but I've seen a little more of Gesink, hence the higher placing. That said, 5 and 6 are looking nearly interchangeable so far (as in, during the I'm going on pure speculation phase).

7. Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel

Now we're dropping off the continental shelf. Astarloza isn't the pure climber he'd need to be to expect to move up. But, somebody has to finish seventh, and my faith in Cunego seems to have been misplaced. Also, he might have a good weekend on home turf, so I suppose he shouldn't be dismissed.

8. Sylvain Chavanel, Cofidis

Like I said, someone has to finish 8th. Great race today. Long term outlook? Not as bright.

9. Ezequiel Mosquera, Xacobeo Andalucia

Zeke placed fifth in the Vuelta last year after getting crushed in both time trials, while otherwise acing the climbs. His 2007 effort probably would have been good enough for the podium on a course like the 2008 route. Today he dropped a mere 2.09 to Leipheimer, 1.20 to Contador, etc. With no more lowland time trials, he's in great shape. At 32, and racing for a small team, I'm going to hold on to expectations, but still...

10. David Arroyo, Caisse d'Epargne

Just rounding out the top ten here. Arroyo is competent and will probably survive most of the challenges ahead. And that's about all the excitement I can generate right now.