Twelve months on, history repeated itself for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) at La Molina as he won on the Volta a Catalunya summit finish for the second year running. But this time, the rewards were even greater.
Valverde's ninth stage victory in the Volta a Catalunya, taken easily in a two-up sprint against promising young Colombian racer Egan Bernal (Team Sky), also netted the Spanish star a return to the overall lead and the King of the Mountains jersey to boot.
Thanks to sterling support from Nairo Quintana and Marc Soler on the 12-kilometre La Molina climb, Valverde now leads with a 19-second advantage over Bernal with Quintana in third. The toughest mountain stage is now behind him and there are three stages remaining. His chances of repeating 2017's overall triumph in the Volta a Catalunya could hardly be higher.
"It was a very tough stage, very cold," Valverde said afterwards. "But you could see that from the beginning to the end, the team really had things under control. Thanks to Marc and Nairo on the final climb, they made things very easy for me indeed."
Movistar had few problems dominating the final climb, even if Michelton-Scott's long-distance attack with Esteban Chaves and then Matej Mohoric's charge off the front kept them on their toes. But when Valverde bridged across to Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) with a seemingly minimal effort, it was clear that the Spaniard was on a very good day.
"Michelton's move was a very good move to make, but we weren't nervous for a very simple reason. It was a very hard stage and it would have been very difficult for a single rider to stay away to the finish.
"Then the team had everything under control and you could all see on the last climb we were able to handle the race the way we wanted."
Soler's early attack softened up the opposition considerably and allowed first Quintana and then Valverde to move across to a small lead group. Then, when Soler finally dropped away, Quintana and Valverde were able to launch attacks to soften up the opposition, to the point where only Bernal was able to remain in contention and the gap had widened to half a minute on Pierre LaTour (Ag2R La Mondiale). A group containing Michelton-Scott's Simon Yates, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Hugh Carthy (Team EF-Education First) were a minute back.
From the moment when he briefly set off after Mohoric, at the same time overtaking Chaves, Valverde made it clear that although he wanted the stage win, he was going to play a calculating game rather than blast away no matter the cost.
"I didn't want to chase down Chaves so much as keep in contact with Mohoric" - only 12 seconds behind Valverde overall - "but I lost him on a couple of curves, and then opted to eat some food, sit up wait for the group," Valverde explained about his tactics on the descent before La Molina. "I didn't go for Chaves, it was Mohoric but he took a lot of risks."
Then on the climb itself, "the tactics were partly decided by us three" - Soler, Quintana and Valverde - "partly by the team car and partly by using our eyes and seeing what was going on. When Soler went, I sat up and made sure it was the others who chased him down. Then when Quintana went with Bernal, I let them go again, because I was sure that Nairo would take the stage. I was simply there watching and waiting and then when my turn came - I took it."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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