With Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) up the road in a successful 70km solo breakaway Saturday at the Vuelta a Murcia, the rest of the field was left to battle for second in the 182km Spanish race. Katusha-Alpecin's Jhonatan Restrepo proved himself to be the best of the rest when out-kicked Bora-Hansgrohe's Patrick Konrad for the runner-up spot.
The route for the 2017 Vuelta a Murcia, which shrunk from a stage race to a one-day test this year, included three climbs that doused the hopes for a win by any pure sprinters. Teams arrived on the start line supporting riders that could handle the ascents and still deliver a quick finish at the end of the day. Valverde laid all those plans to waste, however, when he jumped away on the Alto Collado Bermejo and fought a stiff headwind into Murcia to take the win.
"It was a tough race today because of the wind, making it all the more important to work well together in the team," Restrepo said. "Valverde had attacked very early in the climb, about 5km before the summit. But he raced in his own league. It was impossible to follow him."
Behind Valverde, Katusha-Alpecin and Bora-Hansgrohe were able to put multiple riders into a group of just over 20 that formed off the front, but with 15km left to race it was clear that the Spaniard would finish alone.
Katusha had Restrepo, Baptiste Planckaert, Simon Špilak and Robert Kišerlovski in the first chase group that entered the final kilometre more than two minutes behind Valverde, while Bora-Hangrohe had Konrad, Silvio Herklotz and Emanuel Buchmann to contest the final podium spots. Both teams assumed the pace-making leading up to the line, but it was Restrepo who got there first for Katusha.
"In the last 30 kilometers, our team really tried everything to catch Valverde," the Colombian said. "After it became clear that we couldn’t catch him, we all prepared for the sprint. Our real sprinter, Baptiste, felt tired in the final, and so he helped me in the lead out. Thanks to my teammates today. I am happy to be the first after Valverde."
Konrad was also happy to make the podium in his third race of the year after starting his season at Challenge Mallorca in January.
"I just missed out second place, but I am really happy with my performance, especially considering that I came directly from a training camp and my legs were a bit tired today," he said. "I think some of us did another step forward this winter, you could see that today."
Bora-Hansgrohe director Christian Pömer was also pleased with his young riders' performances on Saturday.
"This was a strong ride from our young guns today," he said. "Valverde was unstoppable, but behind him, Patrick and Emu both could climb with the best. Also Silvio showed a strong performance. In the final he and Emu had the job to cover any attacks while Patrick focused on the sprint. Our tactics worked out well, and with the podium finish we can be really satisfied."