Speaking on Tuesday’s rest day, Valverde told reporters that with most riders having already raced in one Grand Tour this season, general fatigue was a bigger factor than usual.

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“It’s not the same getting to your hotel in half an hour in a helicopter as taking nearly three hours in a bus like my team did yesterday from the finish to our team hotel,” he said.

“When you need to rest, that’s a big difference.”

Valverde, the runner-up in last year’s race, also said he thought Italian favourite Nibali was beginning to look vulnerable.

Nibali’s lead of 50 seconds was slashed to just 28 on Monday over veteran American Chris Horner with Movistar rider Valverde 76 seconds behind.

“I would now say that Horner’s even stronger than Nibali on the climbs,” Valverde said. “And if he hadn’t had such a poor (stage 11) time trial, he’d be ahead of Nibali overall.”

Victory in the Vuelta would make Nibali, winner of the Giro d’Italia in May, the first rider to win two Grand Tours in a single year since Spaniard Alberto Contador took the Giro and the Tour of Spain in 2008.

Valverde said the 20th stage ascent of the Angliru, reputed to be Spain’s toughest single climb, could be where Nibali loses the lead.

“If you’ve got a minute’s advantage going in there as leader, then you should be okay,” Valverde said. “But with 28 seconds, that’s another story.”

Valverde said all the riders were at the limit of their endurance at this stage of the race which ends in Madrid on Sunday.

“That’s why using my team mates in Movistar, like I did yesterday, to make the race much harder before the final climb is what will make Nibali crack. As we saw after a hard day, that’s when he’s vulnerable,” he said.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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With bid leaders of the three cities preparing for their final pitch in Argentina, backed on site by political leaders and a string of celebrity supporters, senior IOC officials say the race has never been so open.

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“It is not like before when the decision has often been made,” IOC Vice President and presidential hopeful Thomas Bach said days ago. “This time I think the presentation (in Buenos Aires) will be very important, crucial even.”

Each of the three cities have long highlighted their own assets and the advantages they bring to the Olympic movement should they be chosen to succeed 2016 Rio de Janeiro as the next summer Games hosts.

Istanbul is pitching Games on two continents – the European and Asian parts of the metropolis – as Turkey, with its growing economy, hopes to become the first country with a majority Muslim population to get the Olympics.

Japan’s Tokyo, looking to host them for a second time after 1964, is branding its bid as a safe and solid choice amid financially turbulent times as it incorporates some venues from their first Games to its new proposal.

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Madrid, campaigning for the third straight time, is playing up its high percentage of existing venues, placing sport at the very heart of their bid.

The choice the 100-plus IOC members will make, however, is likely to also depend on non-related Games issues.

Istanbul, making its fifth attempt in the last six votes, was rocked by violent anti-government demonstrations in June that spread to much of the country, shaving off some of the bid’s momentum up to that point.

Protests may have subsided for now but with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan travelling to Argentina to back the bid, questions on discontent in the country will be all but inevitable.

The escalating conflict in neighbouring Syria, and fears it could spill over in the region, are not unfounded as the United States contemplate a military intervention.

Istanbul bid officials as well as the IOC have played down these fears saying Turkey can handle the security situation and that protests have died down.

Turkish bid officials also argue the Syrian border is a long way away from Turkey’s largest city, wedged between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, bridging Europe and Asia.

A string of positive doping cases among Turkish athletes has been a further hit for the bid, even if it does not want to admit it.

“What happened in Turkey with the protests and doping is something that I want to connect in a positive way,” Istanbul bid chief Hasan Arat told Reuters earlier this month.

“The protests are over in Turkey. There is no problem any more, this is not a fundamental problem for Turkey. On the doping side we are cleaning up, there is zero tolerance. It is a very clear message for drug cheats in Turkey.”

SPANISH RECESSION

Spain has been in and out of recession since a decade-long property bubble burst in 2008 and, with unemployment at around 27 percent, is expected to remain in an economic slump for at least another year.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also admitted a corruption scandal, which has undermined the authority of Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP), has hit the country’s image abroad.

Rajoy was testifying about his involvement in the scandal which centres on allegations his party collected millions of euros in cash donations which were then distributed to senior PP figures, including himself.

That is unrelated to the Games in seven years’ time, Madrid officials will argue.

Tokyo, which failed to land the 2016 Olympics and is considered by some as having a slight advantage over its rival bidders, may be advertising its bid as a solid choice for the IOC, but the 2011 deadly earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima is still a top news story.

With highly radioactive water spilling into the ocean and Japan raising the severity level of the latest leaks, it is news that Tokyo does not need days before the vote.

“As far as hosting the Games, the situation in Fukushima will not affect Tokyo,” said Tokyo governor Naoki Inose last month.

But with the current leak being the fifth and worse since the disaster, it is difficult to predict how the situation will develop in the coming years.

An IOC evaluation report released in June offered few clues on potential frontrunners, with all three bids being “of high quality”, putting the decision firmly into the hands of the IOC membership, who will vote after that final – crucial – presentation.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ossian Shine and Pritha Sarkar)

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Whether the stellar line-up of champions, Ferrari’s first such pairing for 50 years, blazes a trail to title glory or derails itself in a shower of sparks along the way remains to be seen.

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The two are fire and ice, and it has been no secret in the Formula One paddock that Alonso would rather have retained Brazilian Felipe Massa as a loyal number two, but equally determined.

Both know what it takes to win titles, both are supremely quick and old and wise enough to see beyond the usual mind games.

“I don’t think Alonso will be too pleased to see Raikkonen there,” said former racer and Sky television commentator Martin Brundle on Wednesday.

“He (Raikkonen) will go about it in his own way. If he heard a radio message ‘Fernando is faster than you’, Kimi Raikkonen is not going to move out of the way.

“He’s going to radio back and say ‘So why is he behind me, then, if he’s faster than me?”. And a few expletives along the way. It will definitely put Alonso on his toes. It will be the strongest pairing in Formula One.”

SUPER TEAM

Raikkonen, the last driver to win a title for Ferrari and first in the post-Michael Schumacher era, did assist Massa in 2008 just as the Brazilian helped him become champion. But generally, the Finn does not do small talk and nor does he seem remotely intimidated by anybody or anything.

When Jenson Button linked up with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2010 in Formula One’s most recent ‘super team’ of champions, the older Briton was warned that he was entering the ‘Lion’s Den’ with everything geared around Hamilton.

It did not work out that way, and 2009 champion Button is now the established leader at McLaren while Hamilton has moved on to Mercedes.

Alonso has grown accustomed to being the main man at Maranello but Raikkonen knows his way around the factory corridors well enough and is also being reunited with former colleagues.

The Finn has already won nine races for Ferrari from his previous stint there, only two fewer than Alonso – who won his titles at Renault in 2005 and 2006 – has racked up for the scuderia.

Raikkonen may not care – or talk – enough to be a leader of men, in the mould of Schumacher or Alonso, but speed and success are powerful motivators in themselves and the 2007 champion will play to his strengths.

Pat Fry and James Allison, two key technical figures, worked with him at McLaren and Lotus respectively – as they did with Alonso.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is a known Raikkonen fan, despite the Finn being paid off for the final year of his contract at the end of 2009 to make way for Alonso.

All that means that there should be a much more level playing field next term at a team renowned in recent years for favouring one driver over another.

At a time when Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel is speeding towards his fourth successive title, and the sport is reliving the sort of yawning domination that Schumacher enjoyed at Ferrari, that has to be good news for spectators.

Alonso, however, is likely to be concerned that Ferrari’s dream team could turn into another personal nightmare – unless their car is so dominant that they are battling only themselves.

When the Spaniard was paired with Hamilton, then in his rookie season, at McLaren in 2007 they fought all the way with the team insisting on equal status.

The outcome saw Raikkonen snatch the title against the odds with Hamilton and Alonso level-pegging one point behind the Finn.

Had McLaren imposed the tactics Ferrari employed during the Schumacher era, or during Alonso’s partnership with Massa, the 31-year-old Spaniard might be a triple champion by now.

Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo used to tell reporters, when asked about the chance of Vettel joining Alonso, that there was no space for “two roosters in the same hen house”.

That policy has now been ripped up. How much they have to crow about next season is an open question but one that will be fascinating to watch.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)

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Crowds in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square, where the decision was broadcast live on big screens in front of hopeful hundreds, rolled up their flags and prepared to leave as the city was comprehensively beaten by the Japanese capital after Madrid was knocked out after the first round.

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Once the result was announced and Istanbul had failed for the fifth time to land the Games, the inquest began.

Civil unrest, the unstable political situation on the country’s doorstep and a wave of high-profile athletics doping cases are seen as the chief culprits for the IOC’s decision to overlook Turkey again after Istanbul failed to land the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.

While the unrest in neighbouring Syria was seen by some as counting against the bid, others felt a heavy-handed police crackdown during recent anti-government protests were also instrumental in dampening Turkey’s image.

“Consider how police reacted to peaceful protests in Istanbul. What if some crowd problem occurred during the Olympics? Would we pepper spray the international audience? With this image, it’s only natural that we didn’t get it, and now it’s time to look in the mirror,” Nurhan Aslan, 37, sales manager at a textile business said.

The unrest nationwide left four people dead, including a policeman, and injured thousands, denting many Turks’ confidence in their ability to win the Olympic bid.

Another growing worry for Istanbul has been the wave of doping cases which have resulted in the Turkish Athletics Federation banning dozens of athletes for drugs violations, most recently double European 100m hurdles champion Nevin Yanit.

Whatever the reasons, the IOC’s decision was a huge blow to sports fans and proud Turks desperate to showcase their country.

“I cannot believe the committee missed an opportunity to start the marathon at one continent and end it in another,” said civil engineer Kadir Gulmez, 32.

“Or say the triathlon athletes swimming across two continents. It would be epic. A perfect chance to make it historic. Turkey should have got this one.”

(Additional reporting by Murad Sezer, Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Mitch Phillips)

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Two goals in two minutes settled the game with Vasili Berezutskiy making the breakthrough in the 50th minute after converting a cross from the right, and Alexander Kokorin doubling the lead in the 52nd minute with a rising shot from the edge of the penalty area.

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Denis Glushakov made it 3-0 16 minutes from time when he reacted first to a penalty from Roman Shirokov that rebounded back off a post.

Eran Zehavi, guilty of the handball that led to the spotkick, headed a consolation for Israel in stoppage time.

Russia coach Fabio Capello told reporters: “We started the second half very aggressively, we pressed them well, we immediately covered them, managed to steal the ball on their side of the field.

Capello, famously hard to please, was not entirely happy though.

He continued: “I don’t like it when my team lets in goals though and I don’t like it when it happens in the last minute of a game.

“Probably it speaks of letting yourself off your guard. But in general, besides this mistake, I liked how our defenders played.”

Defeat in St Petersburg effectively ended Israel’s hopes of finishing in the top two and claiming a playoff place and their long wait for a second World Cup finals appearance since their only one in 1970 will go on.

Russia top the group with 18 points from eight matches, one point more than Portugal. Israel are now a distant third with 12 points from their seven matches.

If Russia win their last two qualifiers in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan next month they will reach the finals, although Portugal, with home matches to come against Israel and Luxembourg, are ready to pounce if they make any mistakes.

(Reporting By Thomas Grove in Moscow, editing by Mike Collett)

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