Vuelta a España (st. 20)
Dedicated Alejandro Valverde squeezes his final energies to take 3rd atop Ancares; Movistar Team leader holds 1’22” margin en route to sixth Vuelta career podium, with just 10km time trial ahead in Santiago
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After eleven victories in 2014 -including the Spanish TT Championships, the Flèche Wallone and San Sebastián- and his career-high fourth place in the Tour overall, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) is just 24 hours away from adding another big success to already one of his best seasons as a pro, with a Vuelta a España podium he left all but confirmed on top of the Puerto de Ancares (HC). The Galician colossus, unveiled today in its steepest versant from Pan do Zarco, with slopes up to 20% and 12km over 8%, confirmed race hierarchy in Spain as Contador (TCS) won the stage from Froome (SKY) and ‘Bala’, who put all his strength on a more-than-deserved 3rd spot..
Suffocating pace from Team Sky from the climb prior to the mountain-top finish, Folgueiras de Aigas (Cat-1), neutralized the day’s break -Niemiec (LAM) was the final survivor-; selected the group to about twenty riders, with Gorka Izagirre as final Valverde support; and prepared the race for several attacks from the beginning of the climb, with Rodríguez’s (KAT) really sticking with 9km remaining. After reaching almost 30″ gap, with Valverde always leading the pace behind to keep his 3rd place overall, several moves from Froome took them back to the front. The last acceleration caused Valverde abruptly dropping, yet with constance, intelligence and seniority, Alejandro gained back terrain, reached Rodríguez -who had dropped from the two top contenders- and left him behind to finish just under a minute behind Contador.
1’22” will be the margin Valverde will have on Rodríguez for the race epilogue, a 9.7km individual time trial in Santiago de Compostela with lots of turns, ramps and short descents where the Murcia-born rider will seek for a sixth GC podium finish in his Vuelta career.
Alejandro Valverde: “I never felt like there was a real threat on my podium finish today. I had good legs and everything was more or less under control through the whole climb. When Purito jumped away I kept my pace in the pursuit, and then, when Froome did, I took sort of a sprint to save some energy and not waste it afterwards with another pursuit to chase them back. However, Froome’s pace change was really strong and there was a point when I had to stop and keep going on my own pace. The problem is – you never know if it’s the time to stop following them, and actually they two, Froome and Alberto, stopped with their action just ten seconds after.
“I still kept my own pace and managed the gap until the end. When Purito dropped I was able to accelerate and catch him, and when I did, I knew the podium was more or less done – in the final slopes, as I saw it was impossible to get back to the lead, I put an easier pace. From tomorrow’s TT, I know more or less what you can see on the profile, though it’s also known that there might be rain, and thus it might become more risky. It will surely be beautiful for the fans to enjoy with us. We can make it to the overall podium again tomorrow; it would be my sixth time in the Vuelta and I’m really happy about it, as well as the whole, great season we’ve done so far.”