It won’t be added to his official palmares or UCI results but Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) celebrated his first win in the world champion’s rainbow jersey at the Saitama Tour de France criterium in Japan on Sunday, beating Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in a sprint finish.
The two headline riders in the exhibition criterium got away in the final laps of the 3.1km Saitama circuit. They were joined by home rider Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida) but he faded in the final kilometre, leaving Valverde to take on Thomas after the final corner.
Despite racing in leg warmers, Valverde opened a gap on the Welshman in the kick for the line and won by several lengths and celebrated with his arms in the air.
“It’s great to win here. This is my first victory in the rainbow jersey, so I’m very happy,” Valverde told the numerous Japanese media and the international media in Saitama.
“It’s always nice to raise your arms and there was a lot of public who cheered us along on the circuit as we raced. This is my second time in Saitama after riding in 2013. I came to enjoy myself and put on a show, so it was perfect.”
Some 50 riders took part in a sprint competition and team time trial before the main afternoon criterium race.
Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) won his round and then the final to take the sprint title, while the Special Team Japan for Saitama won the 2.5km team time trial ahead of Team Ukyo and Shimano Racing Team. The big-name WorldTour teams were lower down the results, with Mitchelton-Scott the best in fifth place at four seconds.
Thomas lined up for the 58.9km criterium in his Tour de France winner’s yellow jersey and on his yellow bike next to Valverde in the rainbow jersey. The riders started the racing cautiously but began to have some fun as the local riders went on the attack. Kittel and Kristoff fought for the intermediate sprints and other riders taking turns to join the attacks.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) had returned from his holidays the day before travelling to Japan from Europe but went on the attack in the final laps to fire up the race. He was joined by teammate Arashiro, Valverde and Thomas. With three laps to go Valverde dragged Thomas away only for Arashiro to join them. However, Valverde and Thomas went away on the final lap with the world champion comfortably beating Thomas. Nibali was fourth, at 22 seconds, with Kittel winning the sprint behind for sixth place at 50 seconds.
Kristoff won the sprints competition, Nibali won the climber’s competition and Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) won the combativity award, meaning all the big-name rider went home with a prize.
Thomas went a little deep after only training briefly last week in Wales before travelling to Japan. However, he was able to go with Valverde’s attack.
“It was hard at first and so I just tried to survive. I felt better later and so waited for the final quieter of the race,” Thomas explained. “Valverde is fast in a sprint and so there wasn’t much I could do there. The main thing was to enjoy the race. The crowds were so big that it reminded me of racing in the UK.”
Cyclingnews will have a special feature interview with Geraint Thomas on Monday, where talks about enjoying his Tour de France victory and his hopes for team leadership at Team Sky for the 2019 Tour de France. He also responds to the critics who suggest Team Sky’s dominance in the Tour de France should be somehow limited or controlled.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||1:20:13|
|2||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team||0:00:06|
|4||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:00:22|
|5||Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin||0:00:50|
|7||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Kota Yokoyama (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Rei Onodera (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Roger Kluge (Ger) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Junya Sano (Jpn) Matrix Powertag||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:55|
|15||Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Team Sky||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Carlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Yusuke Hatanaka (Jpn) Team Ukyo||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Masahiro Ishigami (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Genki Yamamoto (Jpn) Kinan||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Eiichi Hirai (Jpn) Team Ukyo||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Daiki Yasuhara (Jpn) Matrix Powertag||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:59|
|28||Saya Kuroeda (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin||0:01:02|
|30||Jorge Arcas (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates||0:01:04|
|32||Kenji Nakanishi (Jpn) Kinan||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Airán Fernandez Casasola (Spa) Matrix Powertag||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Hayato Yoshida (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Kohei Yokotsuka (Jpn) Team Ukyo||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Yuzuru Suzuki (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Kazushige Kuboki (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Keisuke Kimura (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Antonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:01:12|
|42||Naoya Yoshioka (Jpn) Team Ukyo||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Shotaro Iribe (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Sho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini||0:01:17|
|45||Tomoyuki Iino (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Shoi Matsuda (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Naoki Mukaigawa (Jpn) Matrix Powertag||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Hideto Nakane (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini||0:01:21|
|49||Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin||0:01:26|
|50||Eiya Hashimoto (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama||0:01:27|
|DNF||Tatsuki Amagoi (Jpn) Kinan||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Shinya Mawatari (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Marino Kobayashi (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini||Row 52 - Cell 2|
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