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Valverde wins Roma Maxima

Stephen Farrand

Movistar Spaniard just holds off peloton

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won a thrilling edition of Roma Maxima, holding off the peloton to round out a great weekend of racing after finishing third in Strade Bianche on Saturday.

The Spaniard broke clear with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) on the steep Campi di Annibale climb with 35 kilometres to go and they managed to carve out a 30-second lead. The peloton swelled in strength during the fast run-in to Rome and closed to within a few metres by the line. They cruelly swept up Pozzovivo in the final metres but Valverde wisely started his sprint early and managed to hold off the rest of the race and win by a single second.

Pozzovivo hung on for a fifth place result, while his teammate Davide Appollonio took the field sprint for second ahead of Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF). Thirty-two riders finished in the front group with the sprinters cursing in anger that they had failed to catch Valverde.

With race radios not permitted in non-WorldTour races, some of the riders, including Colbrelli, didn’t know that there was an attack off the front and the confusion helped Valverde win.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) finished seventh but was also angry and frustrated due to problems with cars on the course as he worked to get back to the chasing peloton in the finale.

Valverde was happy to have won and celebrated with his family in Rome. Surprisingly it was his first ever victory in Italy. The Spaniard has endured difficult relationship with Italy after the Italian anti-doping investigators pursued his involvement in Operacion Puerto and used a DNA test taken when the 2008 Tour de France visited Italy to prove he was linked to the blood doping ring.

Valverde was eventually banned for two years and has shown little remorse since returning to racing in 2012.

Asked about his feeling for Italy and the CONI investigation, he told Italian television: "I don’t want to look back into the past, I'm just interested in the present and the future."

He was more willing to talk to the media about his victory.

"In the finale we calculated things perfectly. I'd seen that the sprinters were coming after us in the finishing straight and so I decided to go early to avoid being caught," he said.

"I launched the attack and Pozzovivo came with me and did some good turns, so that I could recover between my turns. It was close but we made it."

Despite his excellent form, Valverde will not ride Tirreno-Adriatico.

"No, I'm going to enjoy some time in Rome with my family. I'll focus on my big goals later in the season: the Tour de France, the Vuelta and then the world championships in Spain," he said.

How it happened

This second edition of Roma Maxima started under a warm spring sun, with the stunning Roman ruins of the Fori Imperiali, the Coliseum and Piazza Venezia offering the same back drop as that of the Oscar winning movie The Great Beauty. It was perhaps a sign of the spectacular finale that would unfold later in the day.

Most of the 16 teams fielded the same riders that rode Saturday's Strade Bianche race. Key changes included the arrival of Philippe Gilbert in the BMC line-up and Nairo Quintana joining forces with Alejandro Valverde in the Movistar squad.

A total of 122 riders rolled out of Rome in the sun, with Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Tewelde Weldegabir (MTN-Qhubeka), Lucas Euser and Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) the only non-starters. Kessiakoff and Euser were involved in nasty crashes at the Strade Bianche.

The racing started fast as riders fought to get in the break of the day. After 15km the right combination formed, with seven riders going clear. They were Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Niccolò Bonifazio (Lampre Merida), Daniel Teklehaimanot and Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka), Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare), Ben Gastauer (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano).

The seven quickly opened a lead on the flat roads heading south from Rome. The gap reached 6:30 after 50km, with the peloton beginning a gradual chase. The fast start meant the first hour of racing was covered at an average of 45.5km/h.

The first hills of the race came after 100km and the 10km climb up to the summit of Rocca Massima and Colle Callaccio saw the gap fall significantly. The seven led the peloton by just three minutes at the summit, with the big teams careful not to make the same mistake of 2013 and let the break stay away. Movistar did a lot of the chasing at the head of the peloton, with Bardiani-CSF giving them a hand with the work.

The climb to Rocca Priora after 144km was more controlled, with the teams knowing the break was within reach. The break also fell apart with Gastauer going clear alone, trying to imitate his teammate Bel Kadri, who won alone last year.

The decisive move by Valverde and Pozzovivo came on Campi di Annibale climb. Valverde made the first dig and inspired Pozzovivo, who danced up the cobbled climb. Valverde joined him over the top and they began to carve out a slight lead as the chasers hesitated.

The final Cappuccini climb gave Valverde and Pozzovivo a final chance to gain time and they had a 30-second gap with 20km to go. Their chances of staying clear seemed slim but Valverde was incredibly strong. Pozzovivo generously did some turns but often struggled to get back on Valverde's wheel when he moved over.

A chase group of a dozen riders stayed at 30 seconds but was unorganised and was eventually swept up by the peloton. The gap slowly came down but Valverde refused to give up, even on the cobbles of the Appia Antica in the final five kilometres.

Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) tried a brave lone chase, as did Samuel Sanchez (BMC), who made a late surge. The race suddenly seemed wide open when the chasers had Valverde and Pozzovivo in sight after the loop of the Coliseum. Yet they were unable to catch them before the final three hundred metres.

Valverde was as quick-witted as he was strong and timed his sprint to escape the grasp of the peloton and so finally win a race in Italy.

Full Results

1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 4:45:45  
2 Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:01  
3 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
4 Antonio Parrinello (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale    
6 Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
7 Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Colombia    
8 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team    
9 Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano    
10 Mauro Finetto (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
11 Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Team Katusha    
12 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
13 Reto Hollenstein (Swi) IAM Cycling    
14 Christopher Sutton (Aus) Team Sky    
15 Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling    
16 Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale    
17 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team    
18 Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
19 Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Colombia    
20 Yannick Eijssen (Bel) BMC Racing Team    
21 Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Giant-Shimano    
22 Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha    
23 Jonathan Fumeaux (Swi) IAM Cycling    
24 Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team    
25 Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN - Qhubeka    
26 Patrick Schelling (Swi) IAM Cycling    
27 Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling    
28 Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
29 Diego Rosa (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
30 Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
31 Matteo Rabottini (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
32 Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky    
33 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Movistar Team    
34 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida 0:00:06  
35 Sebastian Henao Gomez (Col) Team Sky    
36 Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha    
37 Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Cannondale    
38 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
39 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team    
40 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano    
41 Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-Shimano    
42 Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale    
43 Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
44 Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
45 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale    
46 Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:11  
47 Johann Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling    
48 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano    
49 Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:13  
50 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team    
51 Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF 0:00:33  
52 Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha    
53 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale    
54 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:00:46  
55 Joshua Edmondson (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:50  
56 Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Col) BMC Racing Team 0:01:13  
57 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team 0:01:29  
58 Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale 0:06:40  
59 Rafael Andriato (Bra) Yellow Fluo 0:07:50  
60 Marc de Maar (AHo) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
61 Lawrence Warbasse (USA) BMC Racing Team    
62 Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:09:06  
63 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN - Qhubeka    
64 Dennis van Niekerk (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka    
65 Thomas Damuseau (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano    
66 Simone Ponzi (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
67 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team    
68 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team    
69 Marcel Aregger (Swi) IAM Cycling    
70 Benjamin Day (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
71 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team    
72 Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Astana Pro Team    
73 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team    
74 Fabio Taborre (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
75 Francesco Failli (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
76 Rudiger Selig (Ger) Team Katusha    
77 Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano    
78 Angelo Pagani (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
79 Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka    
80 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky    
81 Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Cannondale    
82 Nathan Earle (Aus) Team Sky    
83 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky    
84 Maxim Belkov (Rus) Team Katusha    
85 Luca Dodi (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
86 Stefano Locatelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
87 Daniele Colli (Ita) Yellow Fluo    
88 Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano    
89 Ian Boswell (USA) Team Sky    
90 Dmitriy Kozonchuk (Rus) Team Katusha    
91 Andrea Zordan (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
92 Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
93 Dayer Uberney Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:16:56  
94 Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team 0:19:29  
95 Edward Fabian Diaz Cardenas (Col) Colombia    
96 Davide Frattini (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
97 Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa) MTN - Qhubeka    
98 Matthias Krizek (Aut) Cannondale    
99 Darwin Ferney Pantoja Tobar (Col) Colombia    
100 Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF    
101 Songezo Jim (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka    
DNS Fredrik Carl Wilhelm Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team    
DNS Jani Tewelde (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka    
DNS Lucas Euser (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
DNS Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
DNF Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
DNF Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli    
DNF Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Androni Giocattoli    
DNF Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Astana Pro Team    
DNF Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale    
DNF Juraj Sagan (Svk) Cannondale    
DNF Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia    
DNF Jonathan Paredes (Col) Colombia    
DNF Rodolfo Andres Torres Agudelo (Col) Colombia    
DNF Pirmin Lang (Swi) IAM Cycling    
DNF Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
DNF Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
DNF Andrea Palini (Ita) Lampre-Merida    
DNF Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida    
DNF Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team    
DNF Enrique Sanz (Spa) Movistar Team    
DNF Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team    
DNF Meron Russom (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka    
DNF Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team Katusha    
DNF Martijn Maaskant (Ned) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team    
DNF Andrea Fedi (Ita) Yellow Fluo