Alejandro Valverde shatters Giro d'Italia field with impressive attitude on stage 16 to Andalo, arguably the most spectacular so far in this 'Corsa Rosa'; enters podium, Nibali (AST) now at 1'20" as Spanish champion sits just 23" short of Chaves (OGE), 3'23" to pink jersey
The most spectacular stage in the 2016 Giro d'Italia (132km between Bressanone and Andalo) was won by a legend in cycling and the leader of the Movistar Team. Alejandro Valverde has turned the dynamics of the 'Corsa Rosa' upside down with the gift that turned him into the most consistent rider of the peloton for decades: tenacity. The plan was clear for the Blues, and 'Bala' unveiled it after the finish: "Tear the race apart". Nothing else. Forgetting about power data for a day, without counting the seconds behind his nearest rivals, including Vincenzo Nibali (AST). The only premise today was going on the attack.
75 kilometers from the finish of Andalo, after good work from the whole telephone squad during the Passo della Mendola climb (Cat-2), Ilnur Zakarin (KAT), Steven Kruijswijk (TLJ) and Valverde himself ultimately broke the peloton after several accelerations. The attacks left Colombia's Esteban Chaves (OGE) behind, 39" after the ten-man group led by Valverde into the 'Traguardo Volante' of Cles, where 'Bala' took a two-second bonus he would multiply at the finish.
Cards were on the table as Valverde recovered his nonconformist spirit from the Mur de Huy, the Vuelta a Andalucía and already so many races this year, leaving Nibali behind into the Fai della Paganella (Cat-2) ascent and beating Kruijswijk on the last kick up Andalo. The win, Alejandro's 97th as pro, takes him directly into the selected club of stage victors in all three Grand Tours vueltas (Tour, Giro, Vuelta). Things will calm for a while on Wednesday -196km from Molveno to Cassano d'Adda, with just one Cat-4 climb- before the big finale of this 'Corsa Rosa' starts in Piedmont on Thursday.
Alejandro Valverde: “It was an amazing victory. We came to the start fully focused, knowing that it was going to be a really demanding stage for us. We had already inspected it back in March, the three of us – Chente, Andrey and myself. The team worked their hearts out to go for victory today and tear the peloton apart. We really dug deep for the victory, we put all means we had to claim it. The split wasn't forming up into the first ascent, and the race leader and other rivals were insisting a lot. Happily, we were able to open that gap just before the end of the ascent, with Kruijswijk and without Chaves. We went ahead, pulling all the way to the foot of Fai della Paganella – I think we did a great job, all of us up there.
"I don't think it was a really bad day for Nibali. He was keeping up with us all the time during the break and had everything under control. It was just that I attacked into the final ascent, so I could keep the gap against Chaves and reduce the field ahead – those kilometers alone might have costed him a lot. Seeing Kruijswijk doing that well wasn't a surprise to me, either when he took the leader's jersey. He's been already showing for years he can cope well with the Giro, he was arguably the strongest into the final week last season, and this year, he came here with all willingness to win the race. We three, Steven, Zakarin and Myself, insisted until the very end so we could keep that gap. That brought me the win.
"I already stated during the rest day that my bad day on Saturday was just a consequence of riding in altitude for so long, so many kilometers above 1,700, 1,800 meters. We got through the day as good as we could and later on, we saw at the mountain TT that my physical condition was still near optimal. We just had to go for it today, breaking the peloton into pieces – and we succeeded. The team was phenomenal. I want to thank all of them -mechanics, carers, riders, sports directors- for their dedication. This is a tribute to them, also for my family, my kids and all the fans.
"It's true that Kruijswijk's only weak point so far is his team. Even though we tried to isolate him today, he reacted fantastically well. However, the Giro is far from over. Many demanding stages are left, including Friday and Saturday. We must, however, enjoy today's win, and also the podium, which makes the final result even better."