Bala 2nd in Murcia
Alejandro Valverde 2nd in ‘his’ Vuelta a Murcia behind Gilbert (BMC); courageous Movistar Team attacks with Fernández, Izagirre and Spanish champion before finale
Movistar Team rode offensively during the 36th Vuelta a Murcia and went just short for victory after a courageous race. The squad directed by José Luis Arrieta took a strong gamble for success over the 199km route from San Javier to Murcia, putting many of its riders on the attack in a switch from last years’ strategy.
After initially leading the bunch with Sutherland, Pedrero and Jesús Herrada, the telephone squad launched Ion Izagirre into the break through the Collado Bermejo (Cat-1) and later tried a three-up move into the descent with the former, Rubén Fernández and Alejandro Valverde. Despite the three Movistars reaching almost a minute’s gap over a 17-man pursuit, with BMC at the front, strong headwinds forced the Blues to stop and wait before the Cresta del Gallo (Cat-3).
Van Garderen (BMC) jumped into the last ascent and crested with a 10” gap over a six-rider group including Alejandro Valverde, helped out by all his team-mates before that final kick. A sprint would end up taking the race home, with Philippe Gilbert (BMC) besting the 2015 UCI World No. 1 and leaving the Unzué group with ‘only’ three visits to the podium yet with no win. Izagirre (11th) won the KOM classification and Rubén Rubén Fernández (13th) finished as King of the Sprints, just ahead of countryman Rojas, who suffered cramps after big work late into the race.
Alejandro Valverde: “I’m quite happy. We’re starting the season well, a really long one this year – legs are good to be just February. We took a long shot at the win, racing agressively; I think it was a nice try from us Rubén, Ion and Myself into the Collado Bermejo descent, but working hard at the front also takes a lot of energy, and with Gilbert’s strong team-mates, things get more complicated into such a finale.
“At the sprint, Luisle and myself were much more looking at each other rather than matching Gilbert’s moves; we jumped from a long way to go and the headwind made it impossible to stick until the end. Still, Gilbert is quite a name – this was a decent 2nd place, and the race shows we’re ready to win. I want to thank the Murcian fans; there were lots of them all over the course and I want to dedicate this effort to them; their support was excellent.”
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez