Stage win moves Valverde into pole position at Volta a Catalunya

Spaniard dedicates win to his son, Iban, and to Xavi Tondo

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has left no doubt as to who will be the rider to beat in the Volta a Catalunya after he ripped up his team’s own script and won the stage 2 bunch sprint.

"It didn't come into my plans to win today. I'm going to enjoy this one," Valverde said afterwards with a grin.

Taking his sixth victory of the season and the race lead to boot will do no harm to the defending champion's morale prior to the toughest stage of the 2018 Volta a Catalunya on Wednesday.

"I was already under a lot of pressure," Valverde said when asked if the race leadership and his heightened status as overall favourite could prove a two-edged weapon in the long term.

Valverde looked visibly emotional when he dedicated the win - just as he had done in 2015 when he also won in Valls - to Xavier Tondo, the Catalan rider from Valls and a former Movistar teammate who was killed in a freak domestic accident in 2011 in Sierra Nevada. Valverde also dedicated the victory to his son, Iban, who broke his collarbone during a football match last weekend and who is set to have an operation soon.

"It's a finish I know well, one that I like and I've won here in every way possible," Valverde said about his eighth Volta stage victory. "In a sprint, alone on the line" - as happened in 2015 when he finished five seconds ahead of a fractured chasing group -  "all the ways you can."

Valverde's fast finish in Valls confirms, too, that after his crash in last year's Tour and recovery period he remains just as fast as before his accident. That turn of speed could prove vital if it turns out to be uphill small group sprints that decide the Volta a Catalunya.

If there are any downsides to his success, Valverde recognised, "It's that [Wednesday] is a very hard stage, and it's not always great to get the team to work so hard so soon in a race. But we’re going to be going on very narrow roads, and maybe being ahead rather than behind is an advantage.

"We've got a win, we're in the lead and we'll just have to take things day by day."

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