Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has notched up just his second victory of the season at the opening stage of the Route d'Occitanie, but he said it was an important morale-booster ahead of the Tour de France that starts on July 6. The current world champion said that his goal will be to support Movistar team co-leaders Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa in their quests to win the Tour de France.
"It's a boost of motivation for what's left in this race and also the upcoming Tour de France, where my goal will be helping our two leaders, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa," Valverde said in a team press release.
"It's my second victory of the season - it's true that I've got less wins than in previous years, yet I've also notched up six second places, lots of good results - I feel I've still been up there from the start of the season."
Valverde is making a comeback at the Route d'Occitanie after being away from the sport for nearly two months. A crash ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège resulted in a bone edema - a build-up of fluid in the bone marrow - in his sacrum.
He won the opening stage of Route d'Occitanie, 175km from Gignac-Vallée de l’Hérault to Saint-Geniez-d’Olt-et-d’Aubrac, ahead of Eddie Dunbar (Team Ineos) and Elie Gesbert (Arkea-Samsic). Close behind were Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and Ivan Sosa (Team Ineos).
"Being the first day of racing after so long away from the races, it's tough to tackle a first stage like this, because you don't know how your body will react. Fortunately, it all turned out well. The team did a fantastic job today. We took responsibility from the beginning, together with Education First, and at the first climb to Aubignac I already asked my team-mates to do it a bit 'fast', to check how we could do," he said.
"My legs felt well there, I liked the climb, and so I asked them to go 'full gas' on the second climb. After they completed their work, it was my task to keep things under control. My rivals left me in charge, which was normal, I could understand it from my position. The attacks by Urán and Dunbar were really hard, yet I could control them and take the win."
Valverde said he isn't sure if he can keep the overall lead through all four stages, pointing to the challenging mountain stages ahead. Even if he doesn't win the overall title, he said he can be pleased with his performance so far.
"Keeping the jersey until the end? It's going to be hard, for sure. Stage three is a tough mountain route, and our rivals won't make it easy," he said. "We've got one victory at least now, and above that, I've left with a good impression on my work during these past two months, where I had to give my body some rest with the injury, then go training in Granada and back home."