Route d'Occitanie (st. 1)
World Champion from Movistar Team returns to racing after 53-day stop following his spring injuries with a convincing victory atop Côte d’Aubignac, dons orange leader’s jersey again after his 2018 overall victory in France.
Relying on a strong Movistar Team, Alejandro Valverde offered cycling fans a comeback to racing in the style he’s the only one able to provide: winning and making them enjoy his dominance of the different race situations at the end of stage one of the 2019 Route d’Occitanie. 53 days after his DNF in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, suffering with bone edema to his sacrum, ‘Bala’, recovered and in good form, took the day’s honours at the Côte d’Aubignac (Cat-2), a 4km climb to 8% overcome twice into a tough final circuit in Saint-Geniez.
Jorge Arcas and Jaime Castrillo worked hard from the very start to control the early, four-man break, succeeded by a flurry of attacks without success inside the last 25km. The strong turns by Rojas and a remarkable Rafa Valls, at the first of the two ascents; an excellent descent between climbs by Edu Prades; and the final load of work from Valls and Antonio Pedrero at the last climb left barely a dozen riders at the front, a group further reduced with attacks from Rigoberto Urán (EF1) and Eddie Dunbar (INS).
Valverde kept those moves in check and used his experience to measure his sprinting distance and claim his second win in the rainbow jersey, the 124th of his professional career. A success that brings toghether the orange leader’s jersey, the same one he wore at the end of the 2018 race – and one that he will try to defend all the way towards Clermont-Pouyguillès on Sunday. Welcome back, Bala!
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“Being the first day of racing after so long away from the races, it’s tough to tackle a first stage like this, because you don’t know how your body will react. Fortunately, it all turned out well. The team did a fantastic job today. We took responsibility from the beginning, together with Education First, and at the first climb to Aubignac I already asked my team-mates to do it a bit ‘fast’, to check how we could do. My legs felt well there, I liked the climb, and so I asked them to go ‘full gas’ on the second climb. After they completed their work, it was my task to keep things under control. My rivals left me in charge, which was normal, I could understand it from my position. The attacks by Urán and Dunbar were really hard, yet I could control them and take the win.
“It’s my second victory of the season – it’s true that I’ve got less wins than in previous years, yet I’ve also notched up six second places, lots of good results – I feel I’ve still been up there from the start of the season. Keeping the jersey until the end? It’s going to be hard, for sure. Stage three is a tough mountain route, and our rivals won’t make it easy. We’ve got one victory at least now, and above that, I’ve left with a good impression on my work during these past two months, where I had to give my body some rest with the injury, then go training in Granada and back home. It’s a boost of motivation for what’s left in this race and also the upcoming Tour de France, where my goal will be helping our two leaders, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa.”
Cover picture (c): Aubin Lipke / La Route d’Occitanie