Fifth win at home; first in his 2017 season
Movistar Team leader shines in front of home crowds with impressive 70km solo break to Blues' 3th victory of 2017; Bala now just two short of his first 100 wins as a professional
He uses to go bi in the early season with courageous attempts that, most times, also end up bringing him success. Yet Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) was even more superb on Saturday in the Vuelta a Murcia, showing a fitness level that – provided that he'll turn 37 in late April – cannot be qualified as anything but extraordinary.
The big local hero, supported by the José Luis Laguía-led squad all over the first half of the 182km course between San Javier and the region's capital, amused his countrymen with a solo attack from the very foot of the Collado Bermejo (Cat-1), which he crowned, two hours later, with an advantage over the main field exceeding two minutes.
Neither the strong headwinds, especially in the sections after the biggest climb of the day, nor the slopes of the Alto de Gebas (Cat-3), nor the wear and tear of his 70km solo action or the final efforts from the pursuit could beat 'Bala', who today increased his victory tally as a 15-year professional up to 98, just short of a maiden hundred he's almost certain to achieve.
An excellent way for Alejandro, author of the Movistar Team's third success of the season, to commence a year where he had already been on the spotlight with a 2nd spot on trophy three of the Mallorca Challenge. Valverde will now aspire to contesting the GC win in the Ruta del Sol, starting Wednesday. That's a race where he holds the all-time record of victories, four including his triumph in the 2016 edition.
Alejandro Valverde: “It really was hard, mainly because of those strong headwinds in the later part of the race down to Murcia. I had planned to jump from the bottom of the Collado Bermejo, and I had my team-mates pushing hard from the Aledo part of the climb, but I was really hoping for someone to come from behind and take some turns with me. In the end, I saw I was alone and I told to myself: ‘I keep going on the descent, and should they catch me, maybe I can go for it in the sprint, and shouldn't they, I win' – and I made it to the finish. I just had to give it a try, even it it was so far away from the finish and it was a long shot, but that was the only point where I could win solo from. I took that chance, and I succeeded.
"It's always special for me to win on home roads – this victory goes to all the people in this region, who always cheer for me so much when I'm racing abroad. It truly is the most beautiful of the five I've achieved here: it was a big effort and so tough to keep up against the wind and the climbs to win here. After Nairo's success in Valencia, things are looking really promising for us this season – it's just taking from where we left, after we won those four consecutive WorldTour titles all the way up to 2016. Now it's about having some rest and taking the start of the Ruta del Sol on Wednesday. There, we'll find Alberto Contador and many other big riders, and we will have to try and continue with this streak.”
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport