The heavy rain showers and gusting wind that plagued the final stage of the Ruta del Sol could not stop Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) from celebrating the 100th victory of his career, as the Spanish veteran successfully kept his overall lead of one second intact all the way to the finish line in the Andalusian town of Coin.
Valverde had said he believed Alberto Contador would try to attack on the lumpy stage through the sierras of Cadiz and down towards the coastline near Malaga, but in the end the stage, if weather-beaten, was much more uneventful than expected. Valverde, 15th on the day, finally crossed the line with a fifth Ruta del Sol title in the space of six editions safely in the bag.
In a brief press conference as the rain, which had briefly stopped, began to patter down again on the visor of his Movistar cap, Valverde recognised that he still has some big targets left in his career, such as the World Championships - where he holds the record number of podium finishes without taking the gold medal - and, interestingly, a second overall win in the Vuelta a España.
Valverde is also keen, he said earlier in the Ruta, to broaden his lead as all-time record holder in the Fleche Wallonne, with a fifth victory if possible this April to add to those of 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
For now, in any case, the Spanish all-rounder has taken another hard fought victory in the Ruta del Sol, one of Spain’s most venerable stage races, fending off Contador by the bare minimum, as well as a host of other top names and teams, ranging from Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), third in the end, through to Team Sky’s Mikel Landa and Wout Poels.
A record of five wins in the 92-year-old event, and taking his personal total of professional victories into three figures is no mean achievement so early in a season and shows, even as he heads towards 37, that Valverde may be a veteran but has no intention of throwing in the towel just yet.
“100 is a good number of wins, but I don’t want to stop there,” Valverde observed to reporters. “I’m very pleased with this, and I have to thank the team for all their hard work here.
“It’s been a very hard fought victory, and today was a real battle against the elements, with rain, cold and wind. But finally I got my fifth win here and it’s a good feeling to have 100 wins in my palmares.
“Even if this win in the Ruta del Sol has been a victory by the minimum, that doesn’t mean this one was the hardest. They were all difficult in their own way.”
To celebrate his sporting century of wins, Valverde said he would ease back a little and spend some time with his family, before heading to his next race, Paris-Nice. Then the Volta a Catalunya will follow, and the Ardennes Classics, prior to a spell of rest and the Tour de France. But with 100 wins now clocked up, no matter what comes for Valverde, 2017 will always be a special year.