For a third time in nine years, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) has once again claimed the overall win in the Volta a Catalunya, equalling Miguel Indurain's hat-trick of victories in cycling's third oldest stage race .
Memories of his terrible crash in the 2017 Tour de France are surely fading fast in Valverde's rear mirror, as the seemingly unstoppable rider has now racked up 116 victories in his palmares. Catalunya is the third stage race win of his 2018 season and second WorldTour event after the Tour of Abu Dhabi.
As dominant as when he won Catalunya in 2017, and with an even stronger back-up squad, Valverde claimed two stage wins, the individual GC and the King of the Mountains. After the stage 7 finale, Movistar also went home with second place for Nairo Quintana, and fifth overall for Marc Soler. Movistar also won the best team prize.
Although the outcome of Gent-Wevelgem may change the ranking again this Sunday, for now Valverde has returned to the top spot overall in the WorldTour individual classification. And it goes without saying, too, that Valverde will be, once again, the outstanding favourite in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in late April.
"It's been a very hard fought race, one that was well-deserved by the team, because we raced hard throughout," Valverde said afterwards.
"It's amazing that I've equalled Miguel Indurain, now I'm starting to take all kinds of records, and that's something I never expected.
"It was a difficult race again today, but my teammates, just like they've done all week, were able to keep things under control. When things got the craziest, I just accelerated on the climb to keep neutralizing those moves, which were more dangerous, to make things easier for my teammates.
"We worked again a little bit after my attack, because [Simon] Yates was sort of a threat for the overall result. All in all, things turned out really well.”
He paid tribute to rival Egan Bernal (Team Sky), who crashed and abandoned the race almost within sight of the finish when lying second overall. Bernal had been pushing him hard right the way through the race, Valverde said, and the last day had been no exception.
"It's really sad to see what happened to Egan. He was again really strong on the circuit today, jumping across to the breaks - I really had to dig deep to follow his wheel and neutralize the attempt. Things just happen where you don't expect them to do.
"He's a talented guy, with lots of future and already some big results to his name - I just hope he recovers well and quickly, as well him as my teammate José Joaquín [Rojas]" - also involved in the crash.
As for the Ardennes Classics, where he will also be defending champion in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Valverde said his position could hardly be bettered. "I’ve still got a month to go, but I’ll be in great shape, I hope. And then you’ve got to be lucky to have the legs on the day, too. I’ve every intention of repeating my wins there too.”
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