Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has said that he has "already accomplished" his objectives at this year's Vuelta a España after taking two stage wins so far. The Spaniard is currently lying second overall and is also leading both the points and combined classifications in the race. Valverde's teammate Nairo Quintana is lying third overall, while Movistar are also leading the team classification.
Nonetheless, Valverde said he will not let any further opportunities to shine pass him by in the two weeks that remain in the 2018 Vuelta. He is one second behind Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on GC.
"It would be hard to be in a better position all-round for me and the team," Valverde said in a press conference with Quintana on Monday.
"Things are going very well, with the two stage wins, us being in second and third overall, and with very small time gaps too – one second for me, and Nairo at 14 seconds."
Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue declared himself pleased with his team's race to this point.
"The differences on GC will get a lot bigger in the second week, but for now we're doing well," said Unzue, who also noted that it would be difficult for Mikel Landa, still recovering from his Clasica San Sebastian injuries, to race the World Championships in Innbsruck. Unzue was, however, hopeful that the Basque rider would be able to take part in the Italian Classics before the end of the season.
Valverde, for his part, is racing with the Worlds at the back of his mind, but he stressed that the Vuelta was his priority. The 38-year-old has claimed six medals in the Worlds road race – four bronze and two silver – stretching back to the 2003 event in Hamilton, but has never won the rainbow jersey.
"We're in the Vuelta right now and I can't miss out on the opportunities I can get in this race, both for me and for Nairo," Valverde said. "Of course, the Worlds is on a great route for me, but spending a bit more energy here won't be something that affects that objective."
Valverde added that he was slightly disappointed not to have taken hold of the red jersey of race leader atop La Covatilla on Sunday.
"It's a bit annoying not to be able to take the lead because of a one-second time gap, but at the same time that does lower the pressure on us," Valverde said. "Personally, I would have liked to be in the lead, but that's how things work out at times."
Valverde lost time on La Covatilla compared to some of the other favourites, including 24 seconds on Quintana, who attacked in the finale. Afterwards, Valverde repeatedly stated that he had always said Quintana was Movistar's GC leader and the Colombian himself appeared to be more than content with how the race was developing.
"I'm pleased with all my teammates," Quintana said. "We've got a great team for everything, racing well from the start. But when I punctured, for example, the team was right beside me, helping me through. That's very important."
Now third overall, Quintana believes that he has a "great opportunity" to win the Vuelta.
"The main objective this season was the Tour, and when that doesn't work out, it seems like you've done nothing," Quintana said. "But I'm back here with good legs and things are going well. I've got a good chance."
Quintana tipped stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga as the most important day still to come. In 2016, Quintana won atop the climb to regain the lead he had briefly lost to David De La Cruz, putting in a hefty down payment on final overall victory to boot.
"It's maybe going to be the stage where we make the biggest differences, but we'll see how the rivals are doing. [Simon] Yates is the most active and strongest of them," Quintana said.
"His move in Alfacar [on stage 4 – ed.] was very powerful and he got some time back from that. He's fresh off from the Giro, too, has a good team and is motivated."
Quintana does not, however, just see Yates as his lone rival for final overall victory.
"The Colombians are racing very well too, and LottoNL-Jumbo is going well collectively," he said. "One thing's certain: there's going to be a real war. The Vuelta spectators aren't going to get bored."
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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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