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Valverde closing in on Vuelta title

  • Story Highlights
  • Juan Jose Cobo claimed victory in the 19th stage of cycling's Vuelta Espana
  • Cobo finished two seconds ahead of Spanish compatriot Alejandro Valverde
  • Dutchman Robert Gesink of Rabobank slipped to sixth overall after a bad day
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(CNN) -- Juan Jose Cobo won the 19th stage of cycling's Vuelta Espana between Avila and La Granja but Spanish compatriot Alejandro Valverde remains overall leader after he finished in second place.

Juan Jose Cobo

Juan Jose Cobo celebrates as he crosses the line in first place at the 19th stage of the Vuelta Espana.

Fuji team rider Cobo won the 179.8km-long stage in four hours 37 minutes 35 seconds with Caisse d'Epargne rider Valverde two seconds behind and Australian Cadel Evans in third.

Cobo pulled clear of the pack of seven riders two kilometers from the end and was able to maintain the distance until the finishing line on a stage which featured three top-category mountain climbs.

Valverde fended off challenges from Euskatel's Samuel Sanchez, who moves into second place in the standings, during the stage while the biggest faller was Dutchman Robert Gesink of Rabobank who dropped to sixth place overall.

Gesink had begun the day in second place - 32 seconds behind Valverde - but had clearly not recovered from his fall on Wednesday as he finished four minutes off Cobo's pace.

The conclusion of the stage left Valverde with the cushion of a 1min 26sec lead over Sanchez heading into 27.8km individual time-trial in Toledo on Saturday but he is refusing to get carried away as he closes in on the title.

"If there's not any sort of problem, I should be able to do it in Toledo, but you cannot say you're a winner until we're in Madrid," Valverde told reporters after the race.

"It was super-nervous today. There was a lot of tension in the race, but the team has been a '10.' They've protected me this entire tour."

Italy's Ivan Basso sits in third place at 1min 45sec off the lead and Evans is in fourth place, 1min 59sec off the pace.

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