Itzulia (st. 3)
Movistar Team leader covers final 20km on Gorka Izagirre's bike, finishes 4th in San Sebastián despite getting boxed out into closing sprint to jump onto 3rd overall in País Vasco GC
It was a hurdles race for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) at the end of stage three in the Vuelta al País Vasco, 160km between Vitoria and San Sebastián with no less than six categorized climbs. Well supported by the telephone squad, most remarkably by Rory Sutherland and Víctor de la Parte setting the tempo into the ascents, the Spaniard had a moment with 21km remaining, just before the foot of the Mendizorrotz (Cat-3), last ascent in the programme, as a puncture forced him to continue on Gorka Izagirre's bike, which he carried until the end of the stage.
As David de la Cruz (QST) held a seemingly meagre advantage over the summit, barely 15 seconds, the lack of cooperation into the peloton would still take the fight up to the very sprint at the Boulevard in the Zurriola beach. A rival almost threw Valverde against the barriers and ruined the already-small chances by the man from Murcia to chase the day's win. Alejandro eventually crossed the line in 4th spot, behind De la Cruz -nuevo líder-, Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY) and Jay McCarthy (BOH).
Valverde, who already holds 21 top-20 finishes in just 20 racing days, now sits third overall, 3" behind yellow, with three days to go. Thursday will take the ‘Itzulia’ into Bilbao (174km) as the Sollube (Cat-2) and Vivero (Cat-2) climbs shake the bunch once again before Arrate on Friday.
Alejandro Valverde: “Fortunately, that puncture didn't ruin my GC situation, as we really were fast to change bikes with Gorka. It was an ill-timed moment, though, as racing was fast before the last climb – the proof is Yates suffered a puncture 50 meters after mine and couldn't bridge back. As soon as I felt I had punctured I told Gorka, and we didn't hesitate about changing bikes. We did things right and I also knew I had to finish on Gorka's bike – with such a pace, switching back to mine would have definitely taken me out of the group. Gorka and I don't use the same measures, and the saddle and handlebar were a bit higher than mine, but I didn't feel bad at all into the climb. At the sprint I got boxed in and couldn't contest the stage, but De la Cruz really deserves it: it was a great attack and an even more amazing continuation to keep the gap stable until the finish.
"The important thing is that we remain fully into contention, and the team is doing a fantastic job and responding well to everything I ask them for. Actually, we weren't pulling today for the stage win, even though we had a chance, but rather trying to keep things together looking at the GC. Top favourite? I'm obviously one of them, but not the only one – there are many riders who could have a shot at the yellow. I believe we're in perfect situation to go for it and I've got a rock solid squad by my side. Thursday's finish is similar to today's, with a climb close to the finish – the stage might look easier, but the Vivero ascent is much more demanding and can be more important for the overall result. At the moment, my legs feel good, and I hope to keep going as strong for the remainder of the race."