Vuelta a España (st. 20)
World Champion from Movistar Team keeps 2nd place overall despite Pogacar (UAD)’s big final charge, will step onto Madrid’s podium tomorrow, his ninth in a Grand Tour, behind strong Slovenian Primoz Roglic (TJV).
42 years after Freddy Maertens beating the record of stage victories in the same edition of La Vuelta by claiming 13 wins and the overall classification, a rainbow jersey will be on the podium of the Spanish Grand Tour. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) is all but certain to step onto Sunday’s Cibeles scene after a brave effort to retain his 2nd spot overall, only behind race dominator Primoz Roglic (TJV), following an extremely hard stage 20, 190km from Arenas de San Pedro to the Plataforma de Gredos (Cat-3).
The Telefónica-backed squad had to face, following a race full of attacks under soaking rain, a powerful move from Tadej Pogacar (UAD), who attacked halfway through the main climb of the day, Peña Negra (Cat-1). The 20-year-old’s unstoppable effort of nearly fifty kilometers saw him claiming the stage win ahead of Valverde, supported until the foot of the Plataforma by a magnificent Marc Soler and Antonio Pedrero.
While Valverde was able to secure his second spot, Nairo Quintana slipped down to fourth -yet not out of the final podium, as the Movistar Team will be together in full at Cibeles’ scene with their team GC victory- as he struggled near the end and concede 1’56” against Pogacar, just under half a minute behind his team-mate.
OVERVIEW / REACTION from Alejandro Valverde:
“I’m really satisfied with this Vuelta. I didn’t even dare to dream about a second place overall before the start of the race; maybe just about winning a stage, but never to get onto the podium. It was a difficult finale for me, because of the hard slopes, the weather and also because I didn’t have any time references in the end. The rainy conditions sort of broke my radio, I couldn’t hear it loud, and when I tried to fix it I might have changed the channel I was using and couldn’t hear anything, so I didn’t have any time gaps.
“Thanks to our team, which did a phenomenal effort, I only had to go ‘full gas’ on the slopes near the finish to keep that second place. The fans on the road were yelling to me Pogacar was about two minutes ahead, they told me I had to push hard, and so after I heard that and after those bonus seconds in the sprint my goal was limiting those losses.
“I wasn’t really feeling calm into that final pursuit. However, Pedrero and Soler gave everything to keep Pogacar as close as possible and my job only started at the final climb. Astana launched some attacks, but they never kept a steady pace nor helped us, despite the fact that they were losing all prizes they had. But it’s normal – everyone does its own race.
“I think I’ll be in good condition at the World Championships. We’ll have a very strong team, we’re getting together in Alicante next week and so I hope to enjoy some good days with my team-mates before travelling to Yorkshire. We’ve got to be realistic: it will be more of an open race, and our chances will be smaller than in Austria.”
Cover picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport