By Jean-François Quénet in Privas
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) has sent a warning to his rivals as he build up his form for the Tour de France. He took the first stage of the Dauphiné Libéré in an uphill sprint ahead of Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole).
Of note was the fact that Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and Haimar Zubeldia took part in the sprint for the stage win. They finished fifth, sixth and eighth respectively – none of them hiding their strength, setting up expectations of a great battle in the mountains later in the week.
"Since yesterday I had good sensations," said Valverde, who took third at the prologue in Avignon. "With this stage win, I have completed one goal already, now we'll see how it goes in the mountains, I hope I'll keep going well. It means a lot to me to win a stage here. It's a good motivation for the team who has done phenomenal work today."
The Murcian appreciated the uphill terrain in Privas. "I'm a complete rider," he admitted. "But as a sprinter, on a flat road, there's no way I can beat riders like Hushovd. Today's sprint was a special one. I accelerated with power 300 metres before the line.
"I'm having a good season so far," he continued. "I race less and my preparation is different. It pays off apparently, and I have the Tour de France in mind. I considered myself as one of the five or six contenders for GC. It also requires a bit of luck to win the Tour de France but I'll try."
The Astana team of race leader Levi Leipheimer chose to sit out of the work to control the race rather than use up their energy so early, and it was up to Crédit Agricole to do most of the work. "All the other teams knew that I wanted to take the yellow jersey," explained Hushovd who did so by only one second. "I'm very happy to become the race leader because it's my first time at this race and I like the Dauphiné a lot. I came here to win a stage. After tomorrow, it will only be training for me and I'll enjoy the landscapes of the mountains."