Volta a Catalunya winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has said that he had not been expecting to put on such a stellar performance in the race, where he took three stages, the overall victory and the King of the Mountains jersey.
"I really didn't think I'd get these sorts of results," Valverde said after taking the final stage in Montjuic, where he out-sprinted a fractured peloton for his third win of the week and to crown his overall victory, the second of his career.
"I knew I was going well and above all when I was training in Andorra last week I felt really good."
"But on the other hand I've not raced for over a month, since Andalucia, and other rivals like Alberto [Contador, second overall] had more race competition in their legs," Valverde observed.
"I thought I'd take it on the day by day but in fact my feelings, even today [Sunday], are better than they were at the start of the race."
With less than a month to go before his 37th birthday, Valverde continues to perform on a level that would be exceptional for many riders ten years younger. His winning margin in Catalunya of 1:03 is the biggest since 1996 when Alex Zülle beat ONCE teammate Patrick Jonker - and this in a race traditionally decided by seconds. On top of that, Valverde and his teammates were all penalised with a minute after Movistar's Jose Joaquin Rojas was seen giving pushes to other riders during the team time trial.
Valverde's triumph in a race he last won in May 2009 continues one of his best springs of recent years, with two overall victories, in the Ruta del Sol and Catalunya, as well as a win on home soil in the early season Vuelta a Murcia one-day race. In 2015 Valverde came second in the Volta and claimed three stage wins, and in 2014 he won the Vuelta a Andalucia, Vuelta a Murcia, Roma Maxima and GP Indurain, but this is arguably Valverde's strongest season start ever in a career stretching back to 2002. And there are still are still the Ardennes Classics to come, where he holds the record for Fleche Wallonne wins and is a triple winner in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I really like the Volta as a race," Valverde added, "and whenever I come here I try to do well. My team-mates have all been great this week and I don't want to forget about [Jonathan] Castroviejo and [Andrey] Amador, both of whom had to quit the race sick but who did things very well whilst they were here."
"They showed that in the team time trial" - where, even after being penalised by a minute, Movistar still finished third - "and perhaps I felt more ambitious than ever when going for the wins in these last few days to thank them for the team time trial they did and the differences they helped me to establish there."
Valverde has now accumulated seven wins this season, and 104 in his career. His performance in the 2017 Volta, though, and in particular the way in which he put both Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Chris Froome (Sky) to the sword on the climb of Lo Port marks a new high point in his long career. Come what may in the Ardennes next month, Valverde's season can already be described as a success.
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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