Route d'Occitanie (st. 2)
World Champion from Movistar Team to tackle tough Balès – Hospice de France duo on Saturday in the lead; Démare (GFC) wins tricky bunch sprint.
A calm day, despite the ups and downs of today’s route, for Alejandro Valverde on stage two of the Route d’Occitanie, held on Friday over 187km from Labruguière to Martres-Tolosane, where Arnaud Démare (GFC) stormed to victory at the bunch sprint. As it always happens into a GC lead defense, the Movistar Team had a fair share of protagonism in making things easier for the marvel from the Murcia, who will face a tough battle in the Pyrenees on Saturday against the main GC contenders.
As in Thursday’s opening stage, Jorge Arcas and Jaime Castrillo were the powerhouses to keep, this time together with Groupama-FDJ, the day’s escapes under control. Meanwhile, Prades, Pedrero and Valls covered the World Champion against the wind, with José Joaquín Rojas leading him out into the fast run-in to the finish. The bunch sprint saw ‘Rojillas’ taking 7th, as Valverde, 14th, made the top split.
The 4″ gap thus stayed unchanged between Valverde and Dunbar (INS), with Gesbert (PCB) in third at 8″, before a decisive stage three over 173km from Arreau to the top of the Hospice de France (Cat-1), preceeded by the early climbs to Lançon (Cat-2 and Hourquette d’Ancizan (Cat-2) plus the long Port de Balès (Cat-1; 19km at 6%), just before the grueling, final 10km at 7.3% average.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“Congratulations to Démare on a great victory and the strong work by his team. In our case, it was a relatively easy day, and I say ‘relatively’ because in the end, it was a nearly 200km route, with almost 2,000m of elevation gain – yet it wasn’t too complicated. The pace was high, yet we didn’t encounter any major troubles. Tomorrow will be a completely different story – a really tough stage. And no matter what result we get – I’m so excited to take the start tomorrow and face those climbs.
“Hospice de France – I don’t climbed I’ve climbed it once, though I’ve been told it’s really hard. We’ll have to see how we cope with the early climbs and, above all, Balès, which is long and really hard. The final climb will be a matter of ‘survival’. Rivals? There will be many. Team INEOS is quite strong, there’s also Rigoberto… there’s many people still too close to rule them out, so we will have to remain fully focused on doing well.”
Cover picture (c): Aubin Lipke / La Route d’Occitanie