Valverde gains time on Nibali in Vuelta a Espana

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) said on Sunday that without Nicolas Roche’s late attack, he was convinced he could have won, and although on the race’s first summit finish he finished fifth, on Monday he came much closer, finishing second behind American Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) and moving up to sixth overall in the Vuelta a España after stage 3.

Perhaps more importantly, Valverde gained nine seconds on Vincenzo Nibali and a further two (thanks to the time bonuses) on Rodriguez, confirming the Spaniard is on solid form in his bid for a second Vuelta overall victory.

"I had the legs to win, but even if I didn’t the important thing was to be up there," Valverde said afterwards. "Purito [Rodriguez, Katusha] was going for it, so basically I had no choice anyway, if he was trying for third, I had to be better than that.

"I didn’t have a huge amount of team support in the last part of the stage again, but everybody was lacking that," Valverde, once again slightly isolated from his Movistar teammates, admitted. And whilst Spanish fans may be hoping that a certain Italian Giro winner might not be quite as on song as he seemed after Astana took the team time trial on stage one and the lead on stage two, Valverde was adamant that Nibali, despite losing the lead, "is in really good shape, you could see that on the climbs. It’s not like he’s getting any weaker or anything."

Caught out badly by splits in the peloton in crosswinds in the Tour de France this summer when he punctured just as the race was falling apart, Valverde was visible close to the front this time around, and did not get caught when the crashes and bunch splits happened on narrow, twisting, rural roads deep in the Galician countryside.

"It was a difficult day, with the wind and everything, and then there were the crashes, it was very tense indeed, particularly going over that bridge," in the last 20 kilometres, where the road narrowed to near single file.

"But riding close to the front, you could stay out of trouble. I like [the region of] Galicia, but it’s better to be here on holiday! It’s going to be a really hard Vuelta, but for now I’m going well."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.