A prolonged acceleration by Movistar in the final kilometres of the Vuelta a España stage 3 was seen as surprising by some race followers on a day expected to end in a bunch sprint and where the Spanish team had little to play for.
But as both stage 2 winner Alejandro Valverde and GC contender Nairo Quintana explained afterwards, the Spanish team’s aim had been nothing more than to ensure they stayed out of trouble in a tumultuous finale.
Besieged by a small, fast-moving cloud of Colombian reporters as he wended his way towards the Movistar team bus, Quintana finally stopped at the foot of the bus’s stairs to explain to the ever-persistent South American media and other journalists why Movistar had adopted this unexpected strategy.
“The idea was to move ahead on that long descent to the finish to avoid any dangers or splits in the sprint,” Quintana said. “That was the most important thing today, we didn’t want to fight for the stage win, just avoid crashes. It was an incident-free day and the team was with us all the way.”
Valverde was equally determined to brush off any ideas of repeating his stage 2 win. Even though he started out his professional career as a sprinter, and he remains a formidable fastman on the uphills - as Kwiatkowski saw on Sunday - it has been a long time since Valverde went for a more straightforward bunch sprint, or as the Spanish would say, “it has rained since then.”
“I was well placed just to avoid crashes, nothing more than that. There was no way I was going for the win,” Valverde said. “I felt good, even though it’s been another day of intense heat.”
Looking ahead to Alfacar on stage 4 and his chances of a second victory in 72 hours, Valverde argued that it certainly suited him.
“Of course. But,” he added with relentless logic, “I can’t say it’s a better finish for me than stage 2, because I won on Sunday, so it can’t be much better than that.”