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Team Sky put on collective show of strength in Ruta del Sol opener

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Mikel Landa attacks during stage 1 at Ruta del Sol

Mikel Landa attacks during stage 1 at Ruta del Sol (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Woet Poels (Team Sky) heads for the team bus after the finish

Woet Poels (Team Sky) heads for the team bus after the finish (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Alejandro Valverde wins stage 1 at the Ruta del Sol

Alejandro Valverde wins stage 1 at the Ruta del Sol
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Diego Rosa (Team Sky)

Diego Rosa (Team Sky) (Image credit: Team Sky)
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Mikel Landa attacks during stage 1 at Ruta del Sol

Mikel Landa attacks during stage 1 at Ruta del Sol (Image credit: Tim de Waele/

Team Sky put on an impressive collective performance in the Ruta del Sol's tough opening stage, with Wout Poels narrowly defeated by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the finish, and both Mikel Landa and Diego Rosa in the thick of the battle over the Alto de Monachil climb.

All three had something to be satisfied with: Poels ran Valverde the closest after regaining contact with Sebastian Reichenbach (FDJ). Given his track record in last year's early season Vuelta a Valencia, where he won the two hardest stages (one a time trial, one an uphill finish) and the overall, the Dutchman is arguably the most dangerous of Valverde's rivals.

Rosa, on his first day's racing with Team Sky, was the best placed at the top of the climb and quickest to catch Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) as they hammered after Valverde. He finally placed fourth. Landa, meanwhile, was a little off the pace at the bottom, finishing five seconds behind the leading group of six, but had shown he has hit the ground running in 2017 with some punchy attacks on the ascent to Monachil.

"It's not a bad result. I'd prefer to win, but he was strong in the sprint," Poels said of Valverde to Cyclingnews after warming down. "I didn't know the climb, but we had a good day with the team. We were motoring on the front there."

Asked whether he felt he was as strong as in Valencia last year, Poels baulked slightly, saying, "Valverde and Contador were very strong today. I was suffering a little bit on the climb, but I came back again, and tomorrow [stage 3] we will see."

He was guarded about which of the two stages - the uphill finish at Mancha Real or the time trial on Friday - could be more important for the GC, saying simply "both."

Landa said his attack was one of the team's tactics. "It was a very demanding stage," he told Cyclingnews. "Right from the start Trek set a fast pace when we went up the climb. My attack was a question of tactics. There were three of us Sky riders there and we had to oblige the other teams to show their cards."

Afterwards, Landa said he began to suffer badly, "because I was going flat out and I wanted to go over the top of the climb with them in case they needed a bit more help. But finally Wout got second, and that was fine."

On the first day of a new season, Landa was cautious how he would evaluate his performance, despite his strong showing on the climb. "I didn't race much last year, and I still lack a bit of race speed, so little by little I hope to get it. It was a very tough first stage, with a lot of vertical metres of climbing and tomorrow there's more to come."

Rosa had a bloodied and scratched right arm at the finish, explaining to Cyclingnews, "I hit a tree branch sticking out on a corner of a descent, but I didn't fall." He was more than satisfied with how he had performed with his new team.

"It was the first stage, the first big climb, so it's a question of seeing who's strongest. We've seen that Contador and Valverde were going well on the climb, and it will be up to their teams to put in a lot of the work tomorrow," he argued. "It's an uphill finish, so we'll see what happens. They're the favourites."

Knowing the descent, he said, was crucial, particularly the technical first few corners. "Being ahead was useful, too, because there were fewer riders to get past. We used to come here for altitude training back in the day with my last year [2014] in Androni with [former Androni team leader] Franco Pellizotti," he said, "so that was very helpful."

After the descent, "I was ahead, but I saw Wout was coming up behind and I waited because he's very strong in the time trials, and it's only fair to do this race for him."

For himself, in any case, he was more than satisfied. "I've got the number 17 as a race number, and that's not a nice number in Italy, but fortunately here it doesn't seem to count."

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.