Valverde rolls back the years in Vallter 2000 summit finish
Spaniard takes third behind Adam Yates, Chaves in Volta a Catalunya stage
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) may be a month shy of his 41st birthday but the Spanish veteran rolled back the years with a vengeance at the Volta a Catalunya's first summit finish on Wednesday.
Third at the Vallter 2000 summit behind Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) and Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange), Valverde was in the thick of the attacks on the 11-kilometre Pyrenean ascent.
Valverde had shown some good form recently in the GP Industria & Artigianato, where he placed eighth, and he took eighth again in the opening stage - and fourth in the bunch sprint behind the breakaway - in Calella in the Volta a Catalunya on stage 1.
But Vallter 2000 was undoubtedly his best climbing performance since he took third in a hilly Basque Country stage of the Vuelta a España last year, en route to cracking the Vuelta's top 10 overall for the umpteenth time.
"I'm delighted to be up there again," Valverde, who launched his first attack moments after teammate Marc Soler had been dropped, said afterwards.
"It was a very fast stage because the early breakaway got so much time the other teams began to work really hard from very early on and that was something we all felt in our legs when we finally got to the climb.
"In the last part of the ascent, I started feeling good and I wanted to try something from a distance, above all to be ahead when the favourites began to push hard so I would have something of an advantage, and that way, I'd be able to hold on for longer."
As things turned out, rather than just making an early move to guarantee as high a finish as possible, Valverde turned out to be one of the key challengers on the entire climb.
His first attack brought a determined response by Richard Carapaz, Ineos Grenadiers' fourth GC option, and then the bunch fused a little later thanks to a sustained charge by Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange). But then with seven kilometres to go, Valverde showed he hadn't run out of bullets with another attack.
Former teammate Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), then Carapaz and Trek-Segafredo's Giulio Ciccone were able to come across but the rest of the peloton continued to lag behind the quartet. When Adam Yates launched the first segment of his stage-winning move, Valverde defied his own expectations again by managing to stay with the Briton and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma).
Finally dropped with 2.3 kilometres to go by the leading duo, Valverde dug deep to stay in third place, behind Adam Yates and Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange), who made an impressive late charge, but still ahead of the rest of the field.
Sixth overall and Movistar's best GC option at 1:04, given the depth of the opposition, Valverde's chances of a fourth Volta a Catalunya win overall look to remain very limited.
But as the man from Murcia put it, "I'm very happy to be up there, and tomorrow [Thursday] in Port Ainé, I hope, I really hope, I can be in the same kind of place as today.
"I don't know if I can get a better result or if I can do the same, but to judge by how I feel right now, I think we can still be up there again."
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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 Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.