Valenciana: Valverde looks to bring back GC time in tougher stages ahead

Defending champion finishes 8th in opening time trial

Alejandro Valverde's first victory of the season looked closer than ever after the Movistar rider's strong opening time trial at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on Wednesday.

The last rider off on the short but challenging 10.2km time trial, Valverde finished eighth, just 14 seconds down on stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).

Three times a winner of the Valenciana stage race, in 2004, 2007 and again last year, Valverde's chances of claiming a fourth title are good, particularly as the stage 1 time trial and the stage 5 flat run-in to Valencia, favour him the least in the five-day race.

On top of that, Movistar may well have more than one option for the Valenciana GC battle, given Nelson Oliveira finished sixth, 11 seconds down, in the time trial. However, Valverde is certainly the team's main contender for the race in general.

Valverde was surrounded by the usual cloud of well-wishers, journalists and team staff that followed almost every step he took at the start and finish of a Spanish race. He told the media at the summit of the Orihuela climb he was satisfied with the outcome of his first time trial of 2019.

"I'm fine with that," Valverde said, "I'm inside the top ten. The first time trial of the year is sometimes pretty hard, but in this one, I could do OK.

"It's more or less what I expected, to make the top ten and lose a bit of time on some rivals and gain some on others."

Those top GC contenders furthest ahead of Valverde include Boasson Hagen, Ion Izagirre (Astana), who was second in the time trial at five seconds behind. Of those who will likely challenge Valverde on the ultra-steep slopes of Alcossebre next Saturday, which is where the Valenciana title will likely be decided, include Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Pello Bilbao (Astana Pro Team). They are both just ahead of Valverde in the current overall GC.

Valverde did gain five seconds, though, on Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), and six on Diego Rosa (Team Sky). Another top climber, Mitchelton-Scott's Jack Haig, is also within the danger zone, 23 seconds down on Boasson Hagen and nine down on Valverde.

So after his strong start, it's no surprise that Valverde remains his usual upbeat self. "The coming stages are good for me," Valverde reflected, "and I will be looking to do what I can there."

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