It was another busy weekend of racing on the road and on the dirt as a spate of one-day races in Europe were accompanied by the final act of the cyclo-cross Superprestige series in Middelkerke.
The Vuelta a Murcia kicked things off on Saturday with a hilly course in south east Spain, and it was followed the next day by the flatter Clásica de Almería further down the coast. Over in Italy another chunk of the peloton lined out for the Trofeo Laigueglia, where the hilly route along the rolling Ligurian coast made for a hard day out and a selective race.
The weekend also saw the culmination of the South African national road championships. The time trials had been raced earlier in the week but it was time for the headline events, the elite men's and women's road races, taking place around Florida Farm, Wellington.
Fabio Felline was the bridesmaid on several occasions last year but reversed his luck with his first win on Italian soil since 2013 at the 1.HC Trofeo Laigueglia. The Italian was racing for the national team instead of his Trek-Segafredo trade team as he opened his season in perfect style with a solo win.
"It was emotional to finish like that," he said. "I've been chasing a win since last year. I had a good end of season after my comeback but never managed to win."
Behind Felline, Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) celebrated what he thought was the win by out kicking an eight-man chase group. Mauro Finetto (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) completed the podium in third place.
Click here for the report and results.
Magnus Cort continued his winning run on Spanish soil, and his good start to the year, as he sprinted to victory at the Clasica de Almeria. The Orica-Scott rider has now won in four straight races on Spanish soil, including two stages of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana and stage 3 of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
After 191km of racing, Cort got the better of Bora-Hansgrohe's Rüdiger Selig and Lotto Soudal's Jens Debusschere in the bunch sprint after his teammates controlled the race and ensured it would be decided in a sprint finish.
"It is a really great feeling to win again," Cort said. "It was a long race and the team were fantastic in the finale. I couldn’t have asked for a better lead out, and I am really happy that I could finish it off."
Click here for results and report.
Alejandro Valverde put on a show at the Vuelta a Murcia, with the Movistar captain launching a long-range 70km solo attack to seal a record fifth victory on home roads. The battle for second place was taken out two minutes later by Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha-Alpecin) ahead of Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe).
“I just had to give it a try, even if it was so far away from the finish and it was a long shot, but that was the only point where I could win solo from," said Valverde. "I took that chance, and I succeeded.”
Valverde will enjoy a few days of rest before turning his attention to another race he has dominated, the Ruta del Sol, where he is aiming for win number five in six years.
Click here for report and results.
After Daryl Impey won a sixth time trial title on Friday, and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio made a winning return to racing from her broken pelvis, Saturday and Sunday saw the South African road race titles decided in Florida Farm, Wellington.
Heidi Dalton took out her first elite title on the Saturday with a bold attack and solo ride that took her to the line with a lead of almost four minutes, with just 12 riders managing to finish the race.
Third in 2015, second in 2016, it was only ever going to be first in 2017 for Reinardt Janse van Rensburg in the men's race. The Dimension Data man attacked late in the men's race to form a two-man break with Stefan de Bod of the Continental Dimension Data team, and there was little contest for the win as de Bod settled for another U23 title.
Click here for results from all the elite competitions.
Mathieu van der Poel (Beobank-Corendon) capped his season-long dominance of the Superprestige season with a final-round victory in Middelkerke to sew up the overall title. World champion Wout Van Aert was runner-up once again as his rival made it seven wins from the eight rounds, falling one point short of the maximum 120 points.
In the women's race world champion Sanne Cant claimed her first victory in the rainbow jersey and wrapped up the overall series title in the process, while there was a headache for the judges, who had to separate Sophie de Boer and Ellen Van Loy, both tied in second on 100 points.
Click here for the results and reports from both races.