Valverde wins Saitama Criterium

Thomas and Arashiro on the podium

It won’t be added to his official palmares or UCI results but Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) celebrated his first win in the world champion’s rainbow jersey at the Saitama Tour de France criterium in Japan on Sunday, beating Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in a sprint finish.

The two headline riders in the exhibition criterium got away in the final laps of the 3.1km Saitama circuit. They were joined by home rider Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida) but he faded in the final kilometre, leaving Valverde to take on Thomas after the final corner.

Despite racing in leg warmers, Valverde opened a gap on the Welshman in the kick for the line and won by several lengths and celebrated with his arms in the air.

“It’s great to win here. This is my first victory in the rainbow jersey, so I’m very happy,” Valverde told the numerous Japanese media and the international media in Saitama.

“It’s always nice to raise your arms and there was a lot of public who cheered us along on the circuit as we raced. This is my second time in Saitama after riding in 2013. I came to enjoy myself and put on a show, so it was perfect.”

Some 50 riders took part in a sprint competition and team time trial before the main afternoon criterium race.

Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) won his round and then the final to take the sprint title, while the Special Team Japan for Saitama won the 2.5km team time trial ahead of Team Ukyo and Shimano Racing Team. The big-name WorldTour teams were lower down the results, with Mitchelton-Scott the best in fifth place at four seconds.

Thomas lined up for the 58.9km criterium in his Tour de France winner’s yellow jersey and on his yellow bike next to Valverde in the rainbow jersey. The riders started the racing cautiously but began to have some fun as the local riders went on the attack. Kittel and Kristoff fought for the intermediate sprints and other riders taking turns to join the attacks.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) had returned from his holidays the day before travelling to Japan from Europe but went on the attack in the final laps to fire up the race. He was joined by teammate Arashiro, Valverde and Thomas. With three laps to go Valverde dragged Thomas away only for Arashiro to join them. However, Valverde and Thomas went away on the final lap with the world champion comfortably beating Thomas. Nibali was fourth, at 22 seconds, with Kittel winning the sprint behind for sixth place at 50 seconds.

Kristoff won the sprints competition, Nibali won the climber’s competition and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) won the combativity award, meaning all the big-name rider went home with a prize.

Thomas went a little deep after only training briefly last week in Wales before travelling to Japan. However, he was able to go with Valverde’s attack.

“It was hard at first and so I just tried to survive. I felt better later and so waited for the final quieter of the race,” Thomas explained. “Valverde is fast in a sprint and so there wasn’t much I could do there. The main thing was to enjoy the race. The crowds were so big that it reminded me of racing in the UK.”

Cyclingnews will have a special feature interview with Geraint Thomas on Monday, where talks about enjoying his Tour de France victory and his hopes for team leadership at Team Sky for the 2019 Tour de France. He also responds to the critics who suggest Team Sky’s dominance in the Tour de France should be somehow limited or controlled.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team1:20:13 
2Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky  
3Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team0:00:06 
4Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:00:22 
5Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team  
6Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:50 
7Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates  
8Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott  
9Kota Yokoyama (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team  
10Rei Onodera (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen  
11Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin  
12Roger Kluge (Ger) Mitchelton-Scott  
13Junya Sano (Jpn) Matrix Powertag  
14Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:00:55 
15Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Team Sky  
16Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates  
17Carlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott  
18Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott  
19Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky  
20Yusuke Hatanaka (Jpn) Team Ukyo  
21Masahiro Ishigami (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama  
22Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky  
23Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team  
24Genki Yamamoto (Jpn) Kinan  
25Eiichi Hirai (Jpn) Team Ukyo  
26Daiki Yasuhara (Jpn) Matrix Powertag  
27Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:59 
28Saya Kuroeda (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team  
29Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:01:02 
30Jorge Arcas (Spa) Movistar Team  
31Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates0:01:04 
32Kenji Nakanishi (Jpn) Kinan  
33Airán Fernandez Casasola (Spa) Matrix Powertag  
34Hayato Yoshida (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  
35Kohei Yokotsuka (Jpn) Team Ukyo  
36Yuzuru Suzuki (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen  
37Kazushige Kuboki (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama  
38Keisuke Kimura (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team  
39Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida  
40Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida  
41Antonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:01:12 
42Naoya Yoshioka (Jpn) Team Ukyo  
43Shotaro Iribe (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team  
44Sho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:01:17 
45Tomoyuki Iino (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen  
46Shoi Matsuda (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama  
47Naoki Mukaigawa (Jpn) Matrix Powertag  
48Hideto Nakane (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:01:21 
49Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:01:26 
50Eiya Hashimoto (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama0:01:27 
DNFTatsuki Amagoi (Jpn) Kinan  
DNFShinya Mawatari (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen  
DNFMarino Kobayashi (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini  

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