Alejandro Valverde's seventh place at Milan-San Remo, which came as having been part of the 12-man lead group, was the Movistar rider's best finish yet at La Classicissima – a race that continues to elude and frustrate the world champion.
It was a case of so near, and yet so far: the 38-year-old Spaniard was right where he needed to be on the Via Roma, but was never really a challenger to 26-year-old winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), whose greater concerns as the line approached were AG2R's Oliver Naesen, 2017 Milan-San Remo winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and former world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
"It's been a spectacular Milan-San Remo, both because of the high level of racing and the great weather," Valverde said on the Movistar website. "Being up there with the top contenders and finishing with the first group, after 20 days with no racing, is something to be really happy about."
Valverde's previous best result at what is the first Monument of the season had been 15th in 2016. It's a race that he has now ridden seven times during his career, and finished 24th there back in 2006.
He's won Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the Monument that takes place in the Belgian Ardennes each April – four times, and will target the Tour of Flanders for the first time during his career this spring, but Milan-San Remo continues to remain tantalisingly out of reach.
"It was mostly flat-out in the finale, with no respite, which helped create that selection," Valverde said of Saturday's race. "Even if I was gaining ground on those launching the sprint from the front in the final metres, I wasn't able to gain back any more places, and had to stay content with that seventh place.
"Hats off to Alaphilippe for that huge victory," he said. "Now it's on to this long journey down to Catalunya – another important race in this early part of the season for me – before some more big Classics."
Valverde starts the Volta a Catalunya in Spain on Monday before heading to Belgium for the Dwars door Vlaanderen in early April, ahead of the Tour of Flanders, which is his first major goal of the spring.
He'll then ride Amstel Gold – a race he's twice finished as runner-up – before attempting to take a sixth Flèche Wallonne title and a fifth Liège win.
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