UAE Tour (st. 3)
World Champion from Movistar Team claims his 100th victory with Eusebio Unzué’s team -the first rider since 1980; 123 in total as a pro- with intelligent, well-timed series of attacks towards Jebel Hafeet’s summit -his second success on this top-, which propel him up to 2nd overall in UAE Tour.
The wait is over. After several races showing his unparalelled consistency, yet not being able to raise his arms victorious, the first mountain-top finish of the 2019 UAE Tour witnessed the maiden victory as World Champion for Alejandro Valverde on the slopes of Jebel Hafeet, the same climb where he sealed his overall success in the final edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour back in 2018. The #BalaArcoíris thus claimed his 123rd victory as a professional rider since 2002 -it’s the 16th year in which he takes at least one win- and the fifth success so far this year for the Movistar Team, which now has one rider, Alejandro, with a hundred victories with the Abarca Sports organisation, since they took up building pro teams in 1980.
The work by Castrillo, Oliveira, Sütterlin, Amador and – inside the final 10km ascent – Lluís Mas and Rubén Fernández kept Valverde always calm, tucked inside an ever-shrinking peloton against the strong winds and following the insistent pacing from Jumbo-Visma. Alejandro did not react to the first big acceleration from race leader Primoz Roglic (TJV), 3.5km from the line, rather than letting the race come to him, measure his efforts and launch an attack with 2.5km to go, to reach down Daniel Martin (UAD) who was dropped from the Slovenian’s wheel, and a second move with just over 1km to go, to reach the front and lead the sprint out with no opposition.
Valverde sits now in 2nd place overall -14″ behind Roglic, whom he took four seconds back from after his bonus compared to the Slovenian’s second-place finish- with four days remaining in Dubai, including two uphill finishes. Wednesday will bring another flat route with a sting at the tail, the sprint to be held on the slopes of the Hatta dam, up to 17% into the final 300 meters.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“I wanted to get this first victory so badly. I knew that it would be hard because of the strong field racing here, but I felt well and, above all, measured my efforts well. There was so much wind, more than what’s normal here, and I knew that those who launched their attacks too early could pay in the end. That’s why I knew Roglic’s initial acceleratino was a bit too early. You had to be really cautious, remain inside the group and jump closer to the finish, not earlier than the spot where I went for it last year.
“I waited for that straight, just next to the climb’s hotel, and I went on full steam to catch Daniel Martin. I caught some air and then I went for the rest. I knew Roglic was so strong, and even if I was confident about my chances, felt well during the climb, even better with the attack – I didn’t really know after all if I could make it back to them. If they weren’t cooperating so well, then I stood a chance – and that’s what happened.
“It’s incredible, I’m so proud to be able to take this first victory in the rainbow jersey, even more so in a WorldTour race like the UAE Tour, against big competitors. And it is mainly because of my team, because they worked so hard during the last three days. This victory is also a tribute to my uncle Diego, who passed away a few days ago – I always held him dear and I hope that, wherever he is, this means something big to him. For the time being, we’ve already got a victory, we’ve fulfilled a big goal here. The GC? It’s difficult. If we end up having a chance, great; if not, it’s not such a big deal. Of course we’ll fight for it, but we must tackle things one day at a time, starting with tomorrow’s uphill finish.”
Cover picture (c): BettiniPhoto.net / Movistar Team