But despite finishing six seconds up on Movistar team leader Nairo Quintana, who summed up his time trial performance with a laconic “within what we expected,” Valverde insisted afterwards that he had no plans to overshadow the Colombian in the long-term GC battle.
“There are no two leaders here, it’s all about Nairo. I’m a free agent here, and I’m here to enjoy myself. I’m not going badly, but he’s the one who is here to do the overall,” Valverde said.
Even so, Valverde’s rivals would do well not to let him gain too much time overall. The man from Murcia’s worst ever position in the Vuelta (discounting abandons) overall is twelfth, in 2016, when he rode all three Grand Tours. The 38-year-old also has an overall win in the race in 2009, as well as an impressive six podium finishes in his career.
With little to gain in Malaga given his apparent lack of GC ambitions, and with his appalling crash in the Tour’s opening time trial in Dusseldorf last year still relatively close in the rear-view mirror, Valverde approached Saturday’s time trial with caution.
“I didn’t take any risks. I went flat out on the flat section and the climb, but I didn’t push it on the bends because I didn’t want to fall off,” Valverde said.
“I felt good, but everybody knows what you can risk losing in a time trial, like I did last year.”
Valverde’s first opportunity to take what would be his tenth stage victory at the Vuelta comes on Sunday on the long, draggy uphill finish in Caminito del Rey.
Valverde has excelled in such finishes in the past, all the way back to his second year in the Vuelta, in 2003, when he won a long uphill bunch sprint in Soria en route to third overall. His most recent Vuelta stage win, in Vejer de la Frontera in 2015, was also on a similar finale.