After a quiet but steady first week, on a gravel climb during stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finally delivered his first major attack of the race and confirmed his status as an overall contender.
Previously sixth overall at 41 seconds behind Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Valverde has now moved up to fourth on gc, at 36 seconds behind stage 8 winner and new race leader Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step).
Valverde's driving attack on the Alpe di Poti helped distance Dumoulin, who finally crossed the line 1:10 down on Valverde. But more importantly, Valverde's constant accelerations both on the uphill sections and even once on the technical section of the downhill have confirmed that the Spanish veteran looks set be one of the more powerful contenders on the Giro's upcoming climbs.
Tactically, Movistar played their cards well on stage 8, placing Jasha Sütterlin and Jose Joaquin Rojas in the day-long break so Valverde would have riders up the road to support him on the final Alpe di Poti climb. Equally, their Plan ‘B' for the race, team-mate Andrey Amador finished just a few seconds down on Valverde's group containing most of the main favourites, barring Dumoulin and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).
Sixth on the line in Arezzo's old quarter, after wheeling to a halt and getting an extra jacket, Valverde quickly explained how how the decision to go on the attack so early on the Alpe di Poti had been his, rather than the team's, but that globally the team's strategy had been the right one. It also was a valuable time gain on Dumoulin prior to the Chianti time trial, where the Dutchman remains the top favourite despite his bad day on stage 8.
"We've played it out really well," Valverde said. "We had two teammates ahead, and I decided to accelerate as hard as I could on that last climb and then they could wait for me, and give me as much assistance as possible. It's been a great team effort."
Having checked out the Alpe di Poti climb during Tirreno-Adriatico this March, Valverde said he knew what was awaiting him and the Giro peloton.
"I accelerated right from the foot of the climb and the team told me [over the radio] I should hold back and not go for it so soon. But I told them I wasn't going to do that, on terrain like that, the best thing to do is hit it hard and early and that's all there is to it.
"We saw that both Fuglsang and Dumoulin were in difficulty, but there's a long way to go in this year's Giro. I was doing well, though, and more than anything I wanted to get as much time as possible on Dumoulin because he's the strongest in the time trials of all of us contenders.
"I didn't expect Dumoulin to have a bad day like that but when he started to struggle, I didn't doubt about what I needed to do for a single second and I attacked."
Valverde remains convinced that Dumoulin can win the Giro d'Italia, nonetheless, and that this could well have just been one bad day for the Dutchman. But on a personal front the former Spanish National Time Trial Champion hopes that his good form will help him on the Chianti stage, too.
"Tomorrow's TT will be really demanding," Valverde said, "But it's a route that suits me well; it's a technical, demanding one. I hope I can limit my losses and maybe gain some more time."
Where Valverde has really impressed, though, has been on the climbs - and that's not new. Third in the 2015 Tour de France, as well as the overall of Vuelta a España in 2009, Valverde's climbing palmares was already more than respectable. Now, on one short, but very difficult ascent in the hills of Tuscany, he's shown he could well be a force to be reckoned with in his debut in the Giro d'Italia, too.
More on this story...
- Giro d'Italia stage 8: Quotes from the finish line
- Giro d'Italia: Stage 8 video highlights
- Dumoulin defeated, drops out of Giro d'Italia contention
- Nibali to the fore as Giro d'Italia takes on new complexion
- Giro d'Italia: Brambilla's plan comes together on dusty road to Arezzo
- Valverde strikes first blow in 2016 Giro d'Italia on Tuscany climb