Stage and GC win atop Peñas Blancas
Movistar Team leader takes impressive late attack to fruition in Peñas Blancas, conquers fourth career Ruta del Sol and opens his 2016 account after UCI WorldTour overall success in the last two seasons
Alejandro Valverde showed again in February 2016, fourteen seasons after his pro debut, that his regularity and courage are ones from the past, something difficult to match. Despite his early season goals being still more than two months away, the Movistar Team leader, eighth overall after Saturday’s time trial in the Vuelta a Andalucía, put the GC upside down in the Ruta del Sol. An attack full of grittiness and constance into the climb of Peñas Blancas, end of the 171km stage five, awarded him the day’s honours and a record-setting fourth GC success.
The squad directed by José Luis Arrieta and José Luis Laguía went on the attack from the very start. Juanjo Lobato, Rory Sutherland and Rubén Fernández tried his way into several attacks through the first two hours of racing, the Murcian ultimately able to go away with Geschke (TGA) and Wellens (LTS) into the first climb of Peñas Blancas. The pace by BMC behind never let Rubén’s attempt gain more than 1’30”, the Spaniard eventually caught as a crash with no consequences into the ascent left Wellens alone and ahead till the last 15km.
A move from Dani Moreno with eight kilometers to go derailed the Sky train at the front and prepared Bala’s decisive acceleration -well protected by Imanol Erviti and Javi Moreno as well as all his team-mates-. With 7km left, Valverde soon started opening a huge gap that grew up until 50 seconds. Despite attempts from former leader Van Garderen and a jump from Mollema (TFS) into the final kilometer, Valverde crossed the line with 48” over the red jersey to claim his 91st and 92nd victories as pro, third and fourth for a Movistar Team which found again response to their efforts with a win by one of its two main references.
Alejandro Valverde: "It's the most exciting victory of the four I've got here. It's true that the previous three were also beautiful, but I was feeling like this one was going away from my hands day by day. I felt comfortable all stage today, despite the route being so demanding – which also was for me. The team was also doing well and wanted to try and move the race, and we profited from several other teams who wished to go on the attack to make a fast race so we could get a chance to leave Van Garderen back into the last climb. We launched several of our guys into the early moves, with Rubén into a more serious break and Dani in the finale, and when I saw the others struggling a bit halfway through the last Peña Blancas, I knew that I had to go on a long attack if I wanted to win the GC.
"Last year in the Vuelta I suffered more than today, even as I did worse than today. I knew the climb, went again to look at it this week before the race, and knew how to tackle it. I always had time references from the team car against my rivals during the attack, and wasn't comfortable with that gap, so I just kept going and going on full steam until the finishing line. I knew I was well, but didn't feel I could gain so much space today. I was a bit lucky, also due to the fact that they changed the route just before the race to add that second ascent of Peñas Blancas – it granted me a bigger chance.
"I trained well over the winter; with good weather in Murcia, doing otherwise would be difficult. However, I saw other teams doing strong, those coming to train and race in Spain, the ones who started their seasons in Australia or Argentina… it really seems like the peloton has stepped up their game a bit compared to previous seasons in the early part of the year. Fortunately, and despite being close to turning 36, I'm feeling as excited and fit as when I was 22, even more so today – being able to stay with the top guys in the peloton makes me really happy.
"This victory is a tribute to many people. The main one is Adriano Malori: you all know he's still recovering after his crash in Argentina, and I want to wish him the best. Also the team: they all did fantastically well. The fans: as well in Andalucía as in the rest of Spain, they are spectacular and treat me really well. Also, my family, the kids, all the people who support me. My next goals? We'll be heading to Strade Bianche in two weeks, then Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and then, the Northern classics, Harelbeke and Flanders above all."
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez