Vuelta a España (st. 20)
Spaniard -well supported by Blue team-mates- suffers volumes at decisive Andorra stage, falls to 5th place overall after losing three minutes atop La Gallina, with excellent final help from Nairo Quintana (8th).
After an extremely consistent and courageous race by Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and the whole Movistar Team in the 2018 Vuelta a España, their hopes to claim a good overall result vanished in the 97km stage twenty, featuring more than 4,000m of elevation gain and six rated climbs between Escaldes-Engordany and the Santuario de Canolich / Coll de la Gallina.
Despite the Telefónica-backed squad seeking at all times to make the race hard for its rivals -putting Nelson Oliveira into a much-fought early break and, most notably, sending Nairo Quintana on some significant attacks through the first climb of Beixalis and the second ascent to La Comella-, the Blues’ designated leader struggled from well afar from the finish. The work by Richard Carapaz kept Valverde’s podium chances alive against the attack from Miguel Ángel López (AST). However, the final climb, which ‘Bala’ started half a minute behind, came true suffering for Alejandro, supported by Quintana all the way -the Cóndor dropping back from a leading trio with Yates (MTS), López and eventual stage winner Mas (QST)-.
In the end, it was a three-minute loss at the summit for Valverde, who slips down to 5th overall. Still, the efforts by the Movistar Team all race didn’t go empty-handed, the Eusebio Unzué-led squad securing on Saturday its victory in the team classification -barely a month and a half after equal success in the Tour- and all but claiming the Points jersey with Valverde himself, winner of two stages other than a relentless competitor.
Alejandro Valverde: “You’ve got to stay happy when you give everything you’ve got. You must accept defeat – when you win, it’s all fantastic, but when you lose, you’ve got to recognise your rivals are better than you and move forward. I’ve been up there all Vuelta long and I can only be happy about that. Also because of the teamwork, my two stage victories, this green jersey and the team GC, which will get everyone on the podium. These final days haven’t been the ending I hoped for, but you’ve got to accept things like they happen. It hurts to be out of the podium, but when you leave everything on the road, you can’t really ask for more.
“At the second climb of Beixalis I was struggling a lot, I wasn’t comfortable at all, and I wasn’t able to turn things around in the remainder of the stage. After that, it was just suffering. You sort of surrender and don’t perform the same way; it’s the same for you to lose 1’30” or three minutes. The whole team was phenomenal all Vuelta long, and Nairo proved again to be an excellent team-mate, supporting me all the way to the finish. I thank him for that.
“Now it’s time to rest up and face what’s coming up at the Worlds; let’s see what we can do there. These two days weren’t the best for me, but I think there’s enough time to let the body rest and get back to my best form before Innsbruck. I’m so happy about Enric Mas, he did an excellent race. Yates was a well-deserved overall winner.”