Two days after an impressive summit finish victory at La Molina, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has claimed a second major triumph in the mountains of the Volta a Catalunya that should, barring disaster, see him claim his second outright win on Sunday.
Valverde’s win in La Molina was as much about striking a morale-boosting blow for himself and Movistar after the tumultuous team time trial which saw him move briefly in the lead - and then stripped of it through time penalties meted out across the board to the Spanish squad.
But his victory in Lo Port, 13 seconds ahead of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) was an altogether different kind of win, one about capturing the lead outright. After overnight leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) cracked a little over halfway up the eight-kilometre climb, Valverde’s aggressive riding propelled the Spanish veteran from fourth to first overall and left Valverde looking all but certain to take the outright win in the Volta for a second time in eight years.
Stunning teamwork by Movistar's Rubén Fernández, then by former Tour de L’Avenir winner Marc Soler after an attack by Contador had shattered the leading group, acted as a strong foundation for Valverde’s final move, some two kilometres from the line. And according to Valverde, he even had to rein in his teammates at one point on the climb.
"We stayed close to the front on the run-up to the climb because of the risk of echelons. Then on the climb itself Rubén was asking me again and again if he should go all out. I said to him, 'No, to keep it steady for as long as possible,'" Valverde told reporters afterwards.
"Then Alberto attacked, and I looked round and I could see Marc Soler was just behind the little group that had formed with Contador, so I waited for Marc to get across. Both Marc and Rubén have done a great job, then I calculated the right distance for me to attack and went all out for the finish."
After a typically strong start to the year, winning the Tour of Murcia, his home race, then the Ruta del Sol for a fifth time, Valverde skipped Paris-Nice because of illness. Returning to racing in the Volta, Movistar then 'won' the stage 2 team time trial in Catalunya, before the time penalty left Valverde in 15th spot overall. Rather than buckling under, however, Valverde’s two mountain top victories propelled him into the overall lead.
"I didn’t know how I’d go here in the Volta because I had a cold and it was a tricky month," Valverde said, "but as the race went on I could see I was getting better and better. It’s been a spectacular day for us all round."
Valverde was cautious about whether he could hold onto the overall lead and succeed his teammate Nairo Quintana as the Volta winner, saying he did not know if his advantage was sufficient. However, as he pointed out, "It’s up to them to attack, with two stages to go, we’re at an advantage. So we’re very pleased.
"It’s a victory and a leadership with a special taste after everything that has happened. But finally we’ve got people talking about the racing and enjoying what they see, and that’s good."