Vuelta a España (st. 7)
World Champion claims 12th career stage win in La Vuelta with support from excellent Blue squad, including a stellar Nairo Quintana (4th), in Telefónica-backed squad’s second victory in just seven days of racing.
The Movistar Team continues to offer impressive performances in the 2019 Vuelta a España, its strength as a group rewarded again on the 183km stage seven from Onda to the grueling Mas de la Costa climb (Cat-1; 4km at 12.3% avg.). Alejandro Valverde raised his arms victorious in La Vuelta in the rainbow jersey as World Champion, a dream picture made possible by the hard work and commitment from all seven team-mates, including a sensational Nairo Quintana (4th).
Jorge Arcas and Imanol Erviti took to the front of the bunch with 70km remaining, starting to reduce the gaps against a ten-man breakaway which took more than sixth kilometers to form, and never built a gap exceeding five minutes. The subsequent, continued efforts by Rojas, Pedrero and Oliveira and the support by Marc Soler -who also did well on the final climb to take 12th– helped Valverde y Quintana reached the decisive ascents with all chances to win. Further accelerations from Astana and Jumbo-Visma left ahead only the ‘Fantastic Four’ in this Vuelta, with Primoz Roglic (TJV) and Miguel Ángel López (AST) following Quintana and Valverde as they played their cards intelligently. While the Colombian made the opposition suffer with his pace changes, the Spaniard saved his energy for the end and took the lead since the last 400m, winning the sprint with a great final effort.
Friday’s success marks Valverde’s 12th career stage win in La Vuelta, the marvel from Murcia up to 127 pro wins and now sitting in 3rd place overall, with Nairo Quintana in 4th – both barely half a minute within race leader López. The race will visit Catalunya on Saturday’s stage eight, starting from the late Xavi Tondo’s town of Valls and climbing Montserrat towards Igualada, in the eve of Sunday’s brutal Andorra mountain stage.
Alejandro Valverde: “I’m so, so happy. This season has already been good to me, always up there within the best, but taking a stage like this one in La Vuelta, with such a strong competition – it really makes me happy. I want to thank all of my team-mates for the huge gamble they made on us for the win, and Nairo in particular, because he rode brilliantly over the last climb. He tried to distance Roglic and López with his attacks, but seeing they were able to match him, he set a steady pace so I could go for the victory later on. I was confident, I knew I was doing well, and the worst result I could have got was fourth (laughs). I just tried to keep the moves under control, and I knew I was the fastest of the three, so I remained calm until the end. It’s still a long way to go in this Vuelta, but for the time being, it seems like we two, Nairo and myself, are within the top four contenders for the GC win at this specific point.
“Aiming to win this? Of course it would be incredible to take the victory, 10 years after my first one, but I must remain realistic. We’ve got two stage wins at the moment, one by Nairo and one by myself, we’re up there in the GC – we can’t really ask for more at this point. What there isn’t is a a single problem between us. Nairo said he wants me to be the team leader, but I think he must not rule himself out of contention at all. He’s doing really well, and he’s talented enough to aim for this victory. At Javalambre on Wednesday, there was some controversy from Colombia about me pulling Roglic, but the thing is, if I didn’t have López riding away from us, I wouldn’t have ridden that way. I couldn’t lose time against him, since he’s so dangerous. Roglic has proven to be really strong, too, and he should be the best of us four at the ITT, but anything can happen.”
Nairo Quintana: “I wanted to push hard into those slopes to pay the team back for their hard work all day, while Alejandro saved energy at the back of the group to try and sprint to the win, just like he did. It was our plan before the stage: I went on the attack to test our rivals’ legs and maybe even going solo, while Alejandro tried the move he delivered at the end. When he sees the finish, Alejandro transforms himself. The climb is quite peculiar, with those steep slopes, and considering we’re into day seven of the Vuelta, and after two previous, consecutive mountain stages, the wear and tear starts to show and it encourages you to keep trying, seeking for a mistake from your rivals. Alejandro is currently ahead of me in the GC, he’s doing better and I stand by what I said earlier this week, but we remain day-by-day, seeing what happens. It’s stil a long way home, and together with the team we must continue to do our best.”
Cover picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport