Spanish veteran had already changed targets before Quintana crashed out
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was quick to respond to a television reporter's question after stage 11 of the Vuelta a España when he was asked if he was prepared to change his mentality and switch to being sole leader of the Movistar squad following Nairo Quintana's dramatic crash and abandon.
"I already have changed," the 34-year-old former Vuelta winner said. "I've been leader many times before - and here I go again."
The speed with which Valverde has stepped into Quintana's shoes is perhaps not surprising. The co-leadership between Valverde and Quintana in the Vuelta had nominally been with Quintana in a slightly higher position in the team hierarchy. Valverde himself had said that he thought Quintana would be climb better on the really tough mountain stages in the second and third week.
However, as Valverde - second overall and who chipped seven seconds off Contador's lead thanks to time bonuses on Wednesday - pointed out, "I've always been there or thereabouts and now it [the Movistar leadership] is for me."
"I'm sorry for Quintana, he was just behind me when he fell and I wish him all the best for a fast recovery."
So Movistar, having started with two leaders, are now down to Valverde, in the last decade the most consistent finisher of any Grand Tour specialist in the Vuelta by a large margin. Since 2003, Valverde has never finished lower than fifth overall.
It's hard to know, though, given Valverde is the only top name who raced the Tour de France flat out, taking fourth, whether he can last the distance in a second Grand Tour in such a short space of time. On top of that, Valverde tends to have at least one bad day in a Grand Tour when it comes to race strategy.
On the plus side, Valverde has always been more consistent in the Vuelta than in the Tour de France, where he been unlucky with illness and injury. So far in the Vuelta, prior to turning in a very solid, steady, performance on San Miguel de Aralar, he raced strongly in the Borja time trial - taking eighth - and he won on the very difficult summit finish at La Zubia.
As Contador is finding out, too, the Spanish all-rounder still has it in him to win sprints too - as happened yesterday, when Valverde snatched three seconds in the first intermediate time bonus.
"If the rest of the race goes as well as today I'll be pleased," Valverde said - before repeating, once again, that with Quintana by his side, the Vuelta would have been "way better."
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