Spaniard re-takes leader's jersey in Andalucía after his success at home in Murcia on Saturday, beats rivals on climb, descent and sprint to notch up 99th pro victory opening day of the Ruta del Sol in Granada
He did everything that could be done to chase the victory and make the fans enjoy. Going on the attack in both the ascent and the downhill of the Cat-1 Alto de Monachil, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) completed a superb day of racing on stage one of the 63rd Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucía with an astonishing sprint that puts him back into the leader's jersey he climed atop Peñas Blancas, following the final day of the 2016 race. 'Bala', now just one win short of 100 as a professional cyclist, improves an already impressive record to his 2017 early season, following his win just four days ago at the Vuelta a Murcia with a 70km solo action.
After good Movistar Team work to cover its leader all over the stage and fine pacing from Víctor De la Parte and Soler in the beginning of the climb, an attack by Alberto Contador (TFS) halfway through the ascent allowed Alejandro showing his good legs and gaining confidence to go on the attack into the last kilometer of Monachil. The Spaniard continued his move through the early part of the downhill, more twisty than the two-way road later on, where he was reached down by Ion Izagirre (TBM), Diego Rosa (SKY) and Contador, joined by Sébastien Reichenbach (FDJ) and Wout Poels (SKY) as they entered Granada. The telephone squad's leader did not leave any margin to surprise and claimed his 8th stage win in the Ruta del Sol.
Valverde and his team-mates -the Blues have already claimed four wins so far in 2017, with Nairo Quintana and the Spaniard notching up two each- will defend their coveted position on Thursday at the Queen stage of the event: a 179km journey from Torredonjimeno to the Cat-1 Peña del Águila ascent, which also includes three other classified ascents and plenty of lumpy terrain that will offer no respite whatsoever.
Alejandro Valverde: “We couldn't have started things off in a better way. For the time being, we've got a stage win – everything that comes after this is a gift for us. We knew that Contador would be doing well, and he showed he was willing to fight when his team started to take the reigns of the peloton without asking anyone to help them out. He played his cards and really made the difference, yet we defended ourselves well. When we were the two of us alone at the front, it was complicated to keep pushing because his attacks left no room to breathe. Plus, there was a group with three Sky riders pulling, which made it difficult to escape.
"At the end, I decided to give it a try myself into the last slope and I opened a bit of a gap, but it was difficult to make it grow and finish solo, so I chose to wait for Ion and Alberto, who were coming close behind. I was keeping in mind that I was the fastest into such a field sprint, and at the end it was a good result for us – it's the win that counts here.
"GC-wise, we don't have any real, strict goals. We're in pole position, yet our rivals are going to be really strong, and the next two stages will change things a lot. The whole route on Thursday is very demanding, finishing off with such a difficult climb. It might be good for my chances, but anyone from those who made the front group today can do well either. And then the ITT on Friday, which has only 12 kilometers, but it will be really hard, too."
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport