Spanish champion from Movistar Team -which reaches 30-win milestone in 2015- beats Sagan (TCS) into final sprint in Vejer de la Frontera, claims ninth career stage triumph in Vuelta a España
The UCI world ranking's number one paid a tribute to Pablo Lastras after the remembrance offered by his team-mates at the start of stage four in the Vuelta a España in Estepona, one day away from five months after his crash in the Volta a Catalunya. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) crowned in Vejer de la Frontera, after one of the longest stages in the race (209km), a finale full of short, sharp climbs where the recent Tour de France podium outsprinted the eve's winner in Málaga and green jersey in the French stagerace, Peter Sagan (TCS), with a signature move into the closing 200 meters.
Even though they hit the front at some points of the stage with Erviti, Sutherland or Ventoso -seconded into the day's teamwork by Amador, Visconti, Rojas or Moreno, who suffered a crash with no consequences into a dangerous urban passage-, the Eusebio Unzué-directed squad did not take as much responsibility as they did on previous stages, with Tinkoff and Katusha successively chasing down the day's early breakaway and attempts from Bilbao (CJR), Samuel Sánchez (BMC) and Roche (SKY) into the last 4km.
Valverde dominated the situation with expertise to claim his ninth career stage win in the Vuelta -twelve years after the first one- and take the Blues' account to 30 wins this season, reaching the 5th place in the overall standings -25" behind Chaves (OGE- in the process. In turn, Nairo Quintana finished in 9th spot and remains 8th overall as sprinters take another turn on Wednesday with a relatively easy finish in Alcalá de Guadaíra.
Alejandro Valverde: “Despite being a really demanding finish, we hadn't made a recon earlier and only this very morning we checked it on the Internet to get the knowledge we needed about the slopes. I had to rest a bit after the Tour; should I had stayed on 'racing mode', checking the route, I would have burned myself out, and with technology around nowadays, you can check every detail and get more or less the same results.
"Seeing that it really was demanding, we knew it would suit me well, and with those really hard, final 400m, I kept my mind cold, because Alberto Losada was keeping a tremendous pace at the front. Sometimes, we're the ones taking the biggest efforts in search for the stage win, as it happened Sunday towards the Caminito del Rey -which we couldn't crown-, and today, even though we always kept the front and it was a really fought stage from the team -I can't thank them enough for what they did-, we saved as much energy as possible while others brought the breakaways back one by one. The headwinds were strong all day and the heat, though not really intense -the Garmin was saying 30, 32 degress-, played an impact on the result.
"I was seeing that neither Bilbao nor Samuel Sánchez and Roche were opening a serious gap, and I kept Sagan under control. As the shadow on the ground showed him on my wheel, I didn't have to look back. I knew he was strong, but into such a finish, with 200m to go, when Majka jumped away and closed the gap… you can suffer some sort of misfortune, but it was clear to me that this victory was mine, or at least I had a really strong chance. More than the bonus seconds I took, I'm happy because of this win, which makes my team-mates so confident about our chances.
"Leading the team alone? Not at all – nothing changes with this. Nairo and I remain equal in terms of leadership. It's just that this finish was good for me, but Nairo is doing well, as you can see inside the peloton everyday. Caminito del Rey was the first serious day of racing after four of five when our legs almost did nothing like a real effort, and that made the stage really strange. It was very different today. We're happy with this victory and look forward to keeping this line."