By Shane Stokes
2006 Vuelta a España runner up and ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde has posted a clear sign to his rivals that he is in strong form prior to his season targets of the spring classics and the Tour de France. He took his second general classification victory in eight days.
The 26-year-old Caisse dEpargne rider triumphed in the Vuelta a Murcia on Sunday, one day after taking over the leader's yellow jersey in his home race, and just over a week after landing the win in the nearby Tour of Valencia.
However, it is his TT victory on Saturday which will perhaps give him greatest satisfaction, given that this was the first time trial victory of his professional career. The race against the clock was previously regarded as a chink in his armour, but he has worked hard to improve in this discipline. Last year he showed he was making progress when finishing third in the final time trial in the Vuelta.
Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif José Luis Jaimerena was delighted with the result. "Valverde's win in the time trial is very important because that represents a further step in his career, an expected one. He was showing since last year that he was improving and developing a lot in that specialty. His victory is a proof that the work he did gave results and that is very important for the future, to give him more confidence."
Speaking after the TT win on Saturday, Valverde expressed the same sentiment. "This is the first time I won a time trial and to do it in my home region of Murcia is something very special. I am each year doing better in the difficult discipline that is the time trial, and which has always been my weak point. As a consequence, this victory is a very good sign for the important events I will take part in later in the season."
"It is a fact that I took part in the Vuelta a Murcia with the intention of doing well," he said. "After the Vuelta a Valencia , I did not know how my condition would be. It was better than I thought! This victory gives me a lot of confidence before the Classics because it takes a lot of pressure off me."
Valverde will now take a break from racing, with the Criterium International likely to be his next event.