Vuelta al País Vasco (finale)
Movistar Team leader finally wins his first 'Itzulia' after brilliant TT in Eibar -2nd only to Primoz Roglic (TLJ)-, overcoming Contador (TFS) in last section after initial advantage for fellow Spaniard
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) was finally able to cross out the Vuelta al País Vasco from his list of big victories still missing in his palmarès, fifteen long years after debuting in the race as a neo-pro in 2002. The superstar from Murcia got hold at last of the 'txapela' hat awarded to the 'Itzulia' overall victor following a breathtaking individual time trial in Eibar (27km), over a course very difficult from a strategical point of view -a climb right from the start ramp, Karabieta, 7km long, followed by a fast descent, where 'Bala' exceeded 100kph; lots of ups and downs combined with long straights in the final 15km- and against incredibly talented rivals, including Ion Izagirre (TBM) and Alberto Contador (TFS).
The Trek leader put a worrying 15" on Valverde after the ascent, a serious gap which 'Bala' started making up with a crazy descent. Alejandro crossed the intermediate split (12km) as 2nd within all participants, 9" behind Contador, and started to really turn things around into the slope of Soraluze (21km). Alejandro, tied with Izagirre at that point -the Basque eventually 3rd overall- and 6" behind Contador, managed his energy to perfection to strike once and for good: 6" over Ion and 20" on Contador through the last six kilometers were his decisive comeback, short only 9" to the stage win by Primoz Roglic (TLJ).
The 106th pro win by Valverde, who has reached 19 career victories in multi-day events (the second most successful active rider when it comes to GCs), is another boost in respect for a legendary cyclist –well supported by the whole Movistar Team, with De La Parte, Gorka Izagirre, Rubén Fernández, Moreno, Sutherland, José Herrada and Pedrero- who will now focus on the Ardennes classics -he's won seven of them in his career- starting next Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race.
Alejandro Valverde: “Man, it was hard! I really wanted to win this Itzulia. I have been on the verge of success so many years, always came close without a win – fortunately, it seems like I’m on a good streak this season, and claiming overall honours at last makes for a very special success. Having no pressure before this race was possible thanks to that excellent start to 2017. It was a different País Vasco from previous editions, with lighter routes in the beginning – always demanding but not to much – and, at the end and as in every edition, it came down to the final TT. That’s where we had to give everything for the win.
“Obviously, it was a very demanding course today. Plus, it was stressful, with Ion, Alberto and myself really close to each other. I must say it was an important advantage to start as last, as I had all time splits from my rivals. I was a bit conservative into the first flat stretch after the Karabieta descent, because my team-mates departing earlier reminded me to keep some energy for the final 7km, after the Soraluze slopes, where the real difference was made. I just went on full steam from there and – well, the strategy was right
“I’m even more surprised than anyone about how things are going for me this season. Every single year, at this point of the season, I yell it’s my best start ever. But this time, you can’t have any doubts: it’s the best one. With everything that I’ve won so far, I’m heading into the classics without any stress… maybe if I win one in the Ardennes, I can skip the rest of the season! (Laughs) Seriously: I’m in very good condition and we must try and take advantage from it at the Ardennes. After that, we’ll have some rest and start preparing for the Tour.
“I want to thank the Basque fans for their support in such a spectacular, tight race. Also, my team-mates, for their continuous support, and my family, my kids and everyone who gets happy about my success – this is for you!”
Pictures ©: Photo Gomez Sport