Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is making his debut at this year's Giro d'Italia and the 36-year-old is thus opening himself to a wealth of new experiences. It remains to be seen how Valverde will fare on desolate slopes of the Dolomites, or how he will cope with the final throes of an Alpine spring, but on Wednesday during stage 11, the veteran showed that he is already well-versed in dealing with another Giro staple, the post-stage polemica.
Valverde jumped promptly across to Vincenzo Nibali's wheel with Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) when he accelerated on the descent of the day's final categorised climb, the Forcella Mostacin, but stoked the irritation of the Astana rider by taking only a token turn on the front before their move – which only never gained more than a handful of seconds – was pegged back shortly afterwards.
On crossing the line in Asolo, Valverde was flagged down by an Italian television crew. The region is something of a pastry-making centre, but sugar-coating was in short supply. "Why didn't you collaborate with Nibali today?" he was asked sharply.
Valverde didn't hesitate before meeting brusqueness with brusqueness: "What race were you watching?" Still gently freewheeling towards his team bus, Valverde continued: "In what way did I not work with him? At all times, I worked with him."
In the RAI television studio afterwards, Nibali's exasperated flick of the elbow with 13 kilometres remaining was replayed in slow motion, and the whys and wherefores of Valverde's apparent lack of cooperation were parsed and analysed in minute detail.
By then sitting on the steps of the Movistar bus after showering and changing, Valverde appeared nonplussed by the brewing polemic. "Nibali attacked on the descent and I went after him," he told reporters. "Of course, he had a gap on me of a few metres. When I caught him, I had to catch my breath, but then I worked at all times. He does his race and I do mine."
Amador the option
One compelling reason for Valvede not to work with Nibali and Chaves, of course, was the presence of his teammate Andrey Amador in the pink jersey group behind. No sooner had the trio been pegged back, than the Costa Rican seized the opportunity to jump clear alone with 13 kilometres remaining.
Second overall, just 26 seconds off the overall lead, Amador was quickly joined by maglia rosa Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) and the two strong rouleurs established a lead of some 10 seconds over the chasers. Amador's solo raid on the road to Sestola had almost yielded the pink jersey, but this time he was racing for stage honours, though he would be denied by Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), who bridged across in the finale and won the three-up sprint.
No matter, Amador came home 13 seconds up on the group of pre-race favourites. He remains second overall, 24 seconds down on Jungels, but 43 seconds ahead of Valverde and 45 up on Nibali.
After placing fourth overall a year ago, Amador is a viable podium contender, and Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue revealed to Cyclingnews at the start in Modena that the team's hierarchy was not set in stone – the Costa Rican is a foil for Valverde rather than an outright domestique.
"Last year he was fourth and he's going very well," Valverde said when asked about Amador's role after the stage. "There are still a lot of mountains to come, but we're second and third overall and the others are going to have to attack us."
Amador had initially attacked on Wednesday in a bid to take the maglia rosa for himself, but opted not to lay down arms when Jungels cruised across to shut him down. "Even with the pink jersey riding with him, it wasn't bad for Andrey to go and take out some more time on the others before the mountain stages," Unzue said.
"At that point there was still the chance to win the stage, though unfortunately Ulissi's re-entry made that impossible. Up to now, we've had a series of chances presented by the race, and we've tried to take advantage."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.