Vuelta a España (st. 14)
Spaniard gets struck by rain and cold in the Pyrenees, drops at the descent of Ordino and recovers after frantic pursuit through Le Comella and La Gallina, helped by solid Movistar Team -with a stellar José Herrada- to stay 3rd overall in the Vuelta
In a day where all chances to win the Vuelta a España could have well been lost, the courage and experience by Alejandro Valverde and the good work from all Movistar Team members kept the Spaniard into the overall podium. The first stage in the Pyrenees -156 kilometers between Bagà and the Coll de La Gallina (Cat-1), with the previous climbs of Envalira (HC), Ordino (Cat-2) and La Comella (Cat-2)- became a real torture due to the rain and cold in all the ascents -barely 5ºC in the 2,400-meter-high Envalira-, in contrast to the heat reigning over the race for the last two weeks. Lots of abandons marked a day where the telephone squad’s leader saw his position seriously jeopardized.
The Ordino descent left Valverde dropped; helped out by Erviti, Szmyd, Capecchi and a colossal José Herrada, he started a pursuit through the last two climbs, with the gap, always around forty seconds, decreasing under half a minute in the flat prior to the last ascent and just fifteen seconds at the botton of La Gallina, where Herrada unleashed Valverde. Recovered from his blockage and with better legs, the Spaniard overtook several riders and ultimately finishing 6th, just 49″ off Nibali, the best of the favourites behind day’s solo winner Daniele Ratto (CAN).
Valverde, the new leader of the Points classification, stays in 3rd overall, now 1.42 adrift, sitting with almost one minute and a half’s advantage into the podium, ready to improve in the next two days in the Pyrenees. Sunday’s ride will be the Queen stage: 225km from Andorra to the French ski station of Peyragudes -where the Movistar Team leader won in the 2012 Tour- after the Cantó (Cat-1), La Bonaigua (Cat-1) and the Port de Balès (HC).
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde: “It was a really hard day for me, horrible, cruel; for me, it was the hardest day ever on a bike. Not only due to the hard parcours, but also because of the conditions, which made things much, much harder. I was feeling so cold into the descents, trembling, unable to pedal, I almost crashed. People was overtaking me all the time… I was feeling cold even when climbing – when that happens, everything becomes so difficult.
“I have to thank my team, because they gave everything for me and their work was phenomenal. Thanks to them, I could get over the day – due to them and the fans, which deserve the best, I could get over it. At the last climb I recovered well, warmed up, got on a nice pace and started overtaking riders. That’s why I’m happy with the result.
“It was a hellish day for everything. Seeing how many riders withdrew, and thinking about tomorrow’s stage, with 250k including the neutral zone – should the weather develop like today, I don’t really know what will happen. Surrendering? I never surrender. We’re still in 3rd place. Winning the Vuelta will be difficult, but getting a podium finish is always beautiful.”