Last summer Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lay in a hospital bed with doubts as to whether he would ever return to top-level racing. Yet less than a month into the 2018 season and the Spaniard can afford to joke about his miraculous comeback, after winning his second stage at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, and all but sowing up the overall title, with one stage remaining.
Valverde came into the Queen stage 4 of the race with a slender lead over Astana’s pair of Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang but on the summit finish the Movistar rider showed both riders a clean pair of heels to win the stage and extend his lead over Sanchez to 14 seconds.
Last July, when Valverde crashed out of the Tour de France with a shattered kneecap and a broken talus bone, few expected him to return to his previous best but on the final climb, he demonstrated that even when outnumbered he is still the man to beat.
"The first thing I want to do is thank my whole team because their work all day was impressive. The start was really, really fast, with attacks everywhere and not many teams wanting to keep things calm," he said at the finish.
The stage essentially saw Team Sky and Astana throw everything they had at Movistar. The British team sent two riders up the road in a bid to soften up Valverde’s support and in the second half of the stage, it was Astana who shattered the bunch with a series of accelerations. The first part of the plan worked and as the leaders approached the final climb Valverde cut an isolated figure, his teammates having dropped back one by one.
"Sky even tried to go all-in into the first ascent towards Cocentaina, after the Benillup climbs. When Kwiatkowski attacked, we tried to keep him at short distance first, but later on realised that we had to let him go because we would be wasting some precious weapons if we tried to keep him on a leash. They then tried to get a third man at the front, and that's where I went myself to chase him. The good thing was that my teammates were able to stay strong and keep things a little bit more controlled in the following phase, so I could stay calm until the end. There's no way I couldn't finish things off for them, I had to pay them back.”
Sky's intent didn't match their legs and they were left gasping as an elite group of riders rode away inside the last few kilometres.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) looked to have the stage win in his sights when he attacked the final ramps but Valverde had other ideas. He rode away from Astana’s leaders before cutting past Yates and taking the win.
That crash and career-threatening injury is in the past - as with so many aspects revolving around Valverde's past - he never looks back.
"This win really feels great. I keep this yellow jersey and obtaining a second win in just seven days of racing... I honestly don't know if I'm stronger than before the injury," he said with a laugh.
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