“Valverde, Valverde…” Valerio Piva, the BMC Racing Team director said with a somewhat wistful grin to reporters by way of a one-word explanation as to what had happened to American Tejay van Garderen and the reasons for his defeat in the battle for the overall lead in the Vuelta a Andalucia Ciclista Ruta del Sol on Sunday. And to be honest, Piva’s explanation after van Garderen and BMC were overwhelmed by a devastating attack from the Movistar leader on the race’s final climb effectively said it all.
There could be no denying that van Garderen and BMC put up a strong defence of his red leader’s jersey on Sunday’s mountainous trek through southern Andalucia. And with 22 riders at less than a minute overall, the question was not so much when the attacks were going to come, but which would be the one to cause van Garderen the most difficulties.
BMC did a huge amount of spadework throughout the stage, both on the first four classified climbs and lower slopes of the fifth. Strategically a decision to ease up a little on the fourth climb to wait for Brent Bookwalter after he punctured, given the American’s hard work at the finale, proved the right one.
But after a massive effort by Sky had shredded the peloton on the last ascent to Peñas Blancas, rather than the British team putting in another attack by Woet Poels, as had been expected, Valverde was the rider who jumped clear. And although van Garderen never looked to be in real trouble, the gap inched steadily open to the point where Valverde was provisional leader, then Bookwalter dropped back and after making a counter move, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) both jumped clear. However, it was Valverde who had really caused most of the damage, with van Garderen fourth at the line at 48 seconds, and Valverde taking the Vuelta a Andalucia by 26 seconds overall ahead of the American.
As van Garderen pointed out to a small group of reporters afterwards, BMC were left depleted by numbers on the last climb thanks to Sky’s sudden increase in pace, which proved a two-edged weapon for the British team as well. “Sky made a really hard tempo in the beginning, so it kind of isolated us, but it also isolated them, so then it kind of made room for Alejandro to get away.”
“I was left with only one guy to chase, Brent Bookwalter, we were missing a couple of our climbers there.”
“So the gap was stretching out and stretching out and I had to wait for the right moment to go when the climb was hard and people were tired.”
“I picked my moment with about three kilometres to go, put my head down and tried to claw back enough time to keep the jersey but it wasn’t to be. Hats off to Valverde, that was a gutsy move, he pulled it off with a lot of guts and it was impressive.” Asked by a Spanish reporter to qualify Valverde’s performance, “He went from a long way out, that showed a lot of guts and it was a very deserving win.”
Although there were strong, gusting winds throughout the day, van Garderen said it had not made too much of a difference on the final climb. “Our team showed that they were really strong and we have still a couple of lessons to take away from this, but in the end we all showed we are in good shape and motivated and ready to take on the next challenge.” In van Garderen’s case, that will be Tirreno-Adriatico, where he will be fighting for the overall.