Spanish Championships Road Race
Former sprinter, now-domestique from Cieza claims second Spanish title, five years after Castellón; prolonges seven-year winning streak for Movistar Team at National Road Championships. Unzué's squad reaches Tour de France with 30+ victories for their very first time ever
Make that seven. The Movistar Team's love story with the Spanish Championships remains alive after the Eusebio Unzué-led squad sticked to their exemplary performance from previous editions in Blue. José Joaquín Rojas completed a sensational ride to gold in Cocentaina, after 194km of rough roads and continuous ups and downs in the hot Alicante sierras. The man from Cieza took to fruition an attacking race by the telephone squad from its very start, as Rubén Fernández and José Herrada got into the early break at lap one of six scheduled in the event.
The two Blues were never allowed more than four minutes of advantage, as several counterattacks forced them to start picking up their pace early. Rubén was reached down, together with local hero David Belda (ROT), by a quartet including Rojas, who never stopped making efforts to maintain a steady rhythm at the front and keep the other teams' leaders out of balance. Erviti and Ventoso, part of a seven-man attempt behind the two Movistar Team riders in the lead, made Alejandro Valverde and his team-mates even more calm, which Rojas profited from to take the reins of the situation into the 32k final lap.
A series of attacks by José Joaquín allowed him leaving Vicioso (KAT; silver) and Simón (VAT; bronze) behind to claim his second rojigualda jersey, five years after Castellón. Behind at the regrouped bunch, Valverde (4th) and Jesús Herrada (5th) celebrated a win which becomes the fourth national title of the weekend for Unzué's lads and marks a big milestone: for the first time in their four-decade history, the Movistar Team will reach the Tour de France with 30+ victories, a number reinforced by the 13 different riders with one or more wins in 2016.
José Joaquín Rojas: “People say that I wasn't in the stakes for victory, but I'd tell them to look at my work in the Giro or the Route du Sud, since those were races where I proved that my role in the team is quite different from the past. I don't race looking for individual goals anymore: I do things that can be valuable for the whole team and that's how I earned my team-mates' confidence, especially for this Championships. It's been a beautiful season for all of us: we claimed the Giro podium with Alejandro, we took so many wins that contribute to keep the squad's streak alive… It's not so important to win by myself – I've found this role pretty comfortable for me.
"Should today's race situation have happened years before today, I'd have probably saved all my energies for the sprint, because I often came out as the fastest at them. However, things have changed for me: I just couldn't wait, because I had the legs to win solo, and I couldn't reach the finish with Vicioso, either. Despite Ángel getting a bit old, he's always a very dangerous rider, who can play his cards well. I tried to make things hard into my group, create splits and attack as much as I could. I also tried to make my team-mates ride calm behind and avoid any potentially dangerous contenders bridge across. I attacked lots of times into the final lap: I couldn't make a gap on the first one, then Vicioso was the only one to keep my wheel on the second, and with 5-6 kilometrs to go, I could leave him behind and go for the win.
It was a marvellous day for me: riding almost on home roads, with lots of people already at the depart (9am), on beautiful terrain… It makes the win more worth. It was also a season fighting against many things, sort of my style of racing applied to life: I had to undergo heart surgery in the winter, I broke my wrist in Paris-Nice and it hurt me a lot, even today. Despite all of that, we took energy out of nowhere to claim a win at last, such an important win as you can wear the jersey for a whole season. Now I'd like to ride the Vuelta – the Qatar Worlds don't worry me so much, as the national team coach didn't have me in last season when I was in such strong form."