Ilness forced Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to change his calendar in the run-up to the Tour de France, skipping the nine-day Tour de Suisse for the more low-key Route d'Occitanie, where the Spaniard made the most of his re-tooled schedule by taking a stage win and the overall at the four-day French race.
"We must still remain happy, because after all, we won the overall classification," Valverde said in a statement released by his team.
"That's a confirmation I did things right for the past month, even if I missed the Tour de Suisse due to illness. I feel like the whole team, as well as myself, did a brilliant job. The goals were more than accomplished - we came here just with a will to get ready for July and, after that, seeking for some wins, and we achieved both."
Valverde, who raced last at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, finished seventh on the first day of Route d'Occitanie, a 168km relatively flat stage won by Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in a bunch sprint. He finished in the bunch the following day, which also concluded with a bunch sprint, allowing him to reserve some energy for his winning stage 3 effort.
On Saturday, Valverde beat Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) to the top of the fog-shrouded summit finish at Les Monts d'Olmes, taking the overall lead by 14 seconds over Navarro and 20 seconds over Elissonde.
Not content to rest on his lead during Sunday's final stage - 192.7km from Mirepoix to Cazouls-lès-Béziers - Valverde hit out again with Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) with 68km remaining after the peloton swept up day’s early break.
Valverde and Sanchez held off the chase over the category 1 Pic de Nore, the category 2 Côte de la Minerve and the category 3 Côte de Villespassans, but with Cofidis, AG2R La Mondiale, Caja Rural-RGA Seguros and Delko-Marseille joining in the chase on the flat run to the finish, the bunch was nipping at their heals inside the final kilometre.
Valverde led into the finishing straight, but the reduced-bunch sprint was exploding behind him and he was passed by stage winner Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ) in the closing metres. Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille-Provence KTM) took third on the stage.
"It was a very tough final stage, and we riders played a big part on it, I guess," he said. "[Sanchez] went on the attack after the descent. I followed him and in the following kilometers I kept taking turns because I couldn't let him just pull on his own if we stood a chance for the stage win.
"At the final little climbs he was struggling a bit and I was pulling off the gas so we could stay together for as long as possible, to have a bigger chance to win, but they really closed the gap from behind and my sprint was too late, launching it from 200 meters to go. In the end, Roux got past few meters before the end."
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