Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) did not seem hugely disappointed that he had lost the leader’s jersey in the Vuelta a España on stage 9, preferring instead to emphasise that la roja had remained within his team.
Valverde was far and away the strongest rider on the Vuelta’s first ascent at Altos de La Zubia last Thursday, driving hard on the higher part of the climb and then accelerating past late attacker Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to take the stage and return to the lead.
On Sunday, however, the Spaniard seemed less in his element as the rain teemed down, and he admitted to Spanish tv after the stage that the drop in temperature was not something that played in his favour.
Nineteenth on the stage, Valverde was unable to follow Contador when the Spaniard launched his first attack, and did not follow Quintana and Rodriguez when his teammate bridged across - and made it into the race lead. He finally lost 23 seconds to the trio, and with it the lead, by eight seconds to Quintana.
Wearing the white jersey of leader of the Vuelta’s ‘combined’ competition, Valverde told Spanish tv “I’m no longer in red, but the important thing is it’s remained in Movistar and right now we’re in first and third, which is fine.”
He had not, he said, intentionally stayed with Quintana to try and protect his team leader when Contador had attacked. “it was more that I didn’t have the legs to follow him. For me, today was a question of following wheels. Given the change of temperature and weather we’ve had today, that’s not so bad.”
Valverde seemingly found it harder to understand the way Team Sky had ridden on the climb, powering up the pace then seeing Froome drift out of the back. “I’m not sure what they were doing, their leader was clearly racing well, but not that well.”
And he refused to rule himself out of the battle for the overall just yet, even though Quintana has raced more consistently and hence now has the lead. Looking ahead to Tuesday’s time trial, Valverde said “I like it. It’s my kind of route, very tough and technical. We’ll see what I can do there.”
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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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