Valverde: Nibali will be very hard to beat

With a strong ride on stage 13 in the Tour de France, finishing fourth at 50 seconds, and the dramatic disintegration of Richie Porte’s general classification chances, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has become Vincenzo Nibali’s closest rival in the battle for the overall. But the Spaniard is not exactly optimistic about his chances of actually toppling the Italian.

“Nibali will be very hard to beat,” Valverde said afterwards, “there’s a long way to go to Paris but right now he’s the strongest. So we’ll take it on the day by day.”

Movistar certainly tried their best to unsettle the Italian. John Gadret was one of the most important factors in shredding the peloton on the Chamrousse’s lower slopes and Valverde’s attack at nine kilometres to go lit the fuse for Nibali’s final moves.

However, once Nibali had gone clear, Valverde and Thibaut Pinot ( notably failed to collaborate in their bid to reel him back in - and consolidate their overall placings. Pinot was critical of the Movistar rider at the finish, but Valverde’s comments focused on the benefits of their joint pursuit of the Italian.

“We both were keeping one eye on what was going on behind us,” was how he described the chase, “I dropped Porte, he’s lost time and so have other contenders, we should be satisfied.”

The only Movistar rider left in the front end of the action in the last two-thirds of the climb, Valverde pointed out he was not the only team leader to find himself isolated on the slopes of the Chamrousse. “Almost everybody was riding solo, and then it was every man for himself.”

If there was a note of caution in his voice, that would be comprehensible, even though the Spaniard’s near-legendary bad luck in the Tour de France has yet to put in an appearance in 2014. In the last two years alone, an early crash in the 2012 Tour and a mechanical incident in the 2013 race put paid to his general classification chances. So far, though, this July one minor crash in the Roubaix cobbles (and having to use a teammate’s bike to ensure he stayed in contact with the other favourites) has been his most significant setback.

However, Valverde will not have forgotten, after one major mountain stage in the 2013 Tour, in the Pyrenees, he was also well placed and after two days in the Pyrenees (following, as it happens, a rough day for Sky’s Richie Porte) he had moved up to second overall.

However, the echelons of stage 13, on the other hand, left Valverde 13 minutes down in a single stage, and out of the general classification fight in 2013. It’s reasonable to assume that the long, flat, exposed stage to Nimes is, therefore, a day which Valverde will be particularly worried about - even if the chances of his finishing on the Paris podium, his pre-race target, look better than ever.

“There’s a long way to go, almost anything can happen. For now, I’m in a good place overall,” he concluded.

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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.