Pushing ahead alone with 6km to go before the summit in Valmorel at the Critérium du Dauphiné may not not have given Alejandro Valverde the desired stage win but it did provide him with indication of his current form and just as importantly, where his Tour de France competitors stand just weeks before the Grand Départ.
Team Sky and Valverde's Movistar squad had done much of the pace setting on the earlier slopes of the final climb but once Valverde's teammate Imanol Erviti- who had spent the day in the day's 15-rider breakaway - was in sight, the plucky Spaniard launched ahead to join him. Knowing his team captain was making inroads, Erviti patiently waited and recovered before giving a maximum effort to try and break the stranglehold of the then Sky-lead group.
Struggling to get more than 50 metres advantage, Valverde took off solo with 6km remaining. He showed his intentions but unfortunately they didn't quite pay dividends. Under the impetus of Richie Porte he was eventually caught but not dropped. It was a restrained effort to test himself and also see how the Tour's GC favourites Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) fared just a few weeks away from the start of the three-week race.
"I knew that maybe it was too soon to attack alone but with the situation of the race with Imanol ahead I thought the time was right," said Valverde on his team site. "We decided to go my pace and move forward but always keeping something in reserve because the climb was not super hard and there were still many riders at the front. It gave me a good reference point and the important thing is that I felt very good and the sensations were good."
Perhaps looking to remind the likes of Froome and Contador that his previous day's TT effort - where he lost 3:29 to the stage winner Tony Martin - was not a clear indication of his form, Valverde added that he will attack again if the moment presents itself.
"Yesterday's time trial did not go so well at all but in this area [the mountains], when I'm good I always try to show it. Now we will wait for the two mountain stages where we will be protagonists and try again."
Valverde added that while Froome was a clear victor amongst the GC riders in the 32.5km TT, when the road titled upwards, the differences were much closer.
"The preparation for the Tour is well under way and that is reassuring. It is clear that Froome is proving to have one more percentage point, especially in the time trial, but in the mountains things are much more equal."
Valverde's next opportunity will likely come on Saturday when the peloton faces a 187.5km trek from Le Pont-de-Claix to Superdévoluy. Five categorised climbs including a warm-up over Alpe d'Huez in the opening part of the stage is sure to give Valverde and the rest another chance to test each other.
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