Tour Down Under - st. 2
Spaniard ends 4th at Stirling’s uphill finish, proves great form in elite return after big Movistar teamwork to chase down the day’s winning break
In his third day into competition, Alejandro Valverde proved that his return into cycling’s world elite is a fact. Despite a one-and-a-half-year inactivity, the Movistar Team rider fought within the best in the first complicated route of the Tour Down Under, the second stage over 148 kilometers from Lobethal to the uphill finish in Stirling, a place where Valverde had already ranked 2nd in 2010 edition. The stage was marked by the successfull break by Martin Kohler (BMC) and Will Clarke (UniSA), the first one dropping in his second escape of this year’s event after getting maximum bonus taking him into the leader’s ochre jersey. The latter would remain solo on top and claim an impressive stage win after a 140k effort that was even about to close the overall contention thanks to a gap over 8 minutes with 20k remaining. However, Movistar Team’s task on front would be decisive to avoid it.
The team’s efforts started with the early lead into the bunch by Imanol Erviti for most of the stage; then, the attacks by Javi Moreno and, above all, Ángel Madrazo, made the race relaunched before the block worked together on full steam during the finale -except for the winning roles of Valverde and Rojas- in a desperate effort to decrease the advantage by the escapee to just over a minute. “The problem was the lack of cooperation,” explained the telephone squad’s DS José Luis Arrieta. “From the 50th kilometer we set Erviti on front, but seeing that no one was collaborating, we chose to launch Madrazo ahead, but they didn’t let him gain more than one minute. Eventually we had to put all riders on front, because our GC chances were getting over.”
Valverde, 4th over the line after Matthews (RAB) and Gerrans (GEC), agreed with him: “At the beginning they left us with full responsibility, and after that it was impossible to chase him down. The team rode marvellously today and they showed we’re a great block, but we can’t take full charge from so far from the finish.” Although he wasn’t able to contest the win, the Spaniard took a positive view on the day’s result: “This was a day when I wanted to see how I could feel, and I found myself out competitive again. Yesterday was an extremely hard day, one of the most suffered I ever had on a bike due to enormous heat, but the temperatures were cooler today and I showed I’m fine. This boosts my confidence for the future and takes the pressure off myself after so much time without racing, but we’ve got to be cautious and see how I recover from the efforts. I started sprinting too early with Boasson Hagen because the headwind was a bit strong, and Matthews overtook me at the end. I stopped pedalling in the final meters and Gerrans went over me just over the line. I could have taken 3rd but, apart from that, my objective was getting amongst the best. Seeing the big riders here, with Boasson Hagen and Matthews, who won here last year, I think I did.”