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Valverde wins Saitama Criterium

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Alejandro Valverde wins the Saitama Criterium

Alejandro Valverde wins the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fans watch on the side of the road

Fans watch on the side of the road (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel beats Alexander Kristoff to the line in the sprint competition

Marcel Kittel beats Alexander Kristoff to the line in the sprint competition (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders about to start the Saitama Criterium

The riders about to start the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The start line of the Saitama Criterium

The start line of the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders line up on the start line

The riders line up on the start line (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders round a corner

The riders round a corner (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The riders pass through the fans

The riders pass through the fans (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas in his yellow jersey

Geraint Thomas in his yellow jersey (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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There were huge crowds in attendance at the Saitama Criterium

There were huge crowds in attendance at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alejandro Valverde beats Geraint Thomas at the Saitama Criterium

Alejandro Valverde beats Geraint Thomas at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Geraint Thomas took second

Geraint Thomas took second (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Yukiya Arashiro crosses the line for third place

Yukiya Arashiro crosses the line for third place (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Always make sure to stop your power meter as you cross the line

Always make sure to stop your power meter as you cross the line (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Roger Kluge at the Saitama Criterium

Roger Kluge at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel wins the battle of the sprinters

Marcel Kittel wins the battle of the sprinters (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alejandro Valverde leads Geraint Thomas through a corner

Alejandro Valverde leads Geraint Thomas through a corner (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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UAE Team Emirates in the team time trial

UAE Team Emirates in the team time trial (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A happy Marcel Kittel

A happy Marcel Kittel (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Roger Kluge leads the Mitchelton-Scott team

Roger Kluge leads the Mitchelton-Scott team (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Home favourite Yukiya Arashiro

Home favourite Yukiya Arashiro (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UAE team waves to the crowd

The UAE team waves to the crowd (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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High fives all around

High fives all around (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fans greet Geraint Thomas

Fans greet Geraint Thomas (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alexander Kristoff with his UAE teammates

Alexander Kristoff with his UAE teammates (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Matteo Trentin with his teammates

Matteo Trentin with his teammates (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Alejandro Valverde meets the fans

Alejandro Valverde meets the fans (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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High fives for Geraint Thomas

High fives for Geraint Thomas (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel greets the crowd

Marcel Kittel greets the crowd (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu rides along with another bike

Fumiyuki Beppu rides along with another bike (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo)

Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Marcel Kittel sprints

Marcel Kittel sprints (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Team Sky ride the team time trial competition

Team Sky ride the team time trial competition (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Movistar ride the team time trial event

Movistar ride the team time trial event (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Mitchelton-Scott led by Roger Kluge in the team time trial

Mitchelton-Scott led by Roger Kluge in the team time trial (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Vincenzo Nibali sits at the back in the team time trial

Vincenzo Nibali sits at the back in the team time trial (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) at the Saitama Criterium

Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) at the Saitama Criterium (Image credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)

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.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team1:20:13
2Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
3Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team0:00:06
4Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:00:22
5Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Special TDF Japan Team
6Marcel Kittel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:00:50
7Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
8Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
9Kota Yokoyama (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team
10Rei Onodera (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen
11Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin
12Roger Kluge (Ger) Mitchelton-Scott
13Junya Sano (Jpn) Matrix Powertag
14Marco Marcato (Ita) UAE Team Emirates0:00:55
15Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Team Sky
16Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
17Carlos Verona (Spa) Mitchelton-Scott
18Luka Mezgec (Slo) Mitchelton-Scott
19Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky
20Yusuke Hatanaka (Jpn) Team Ukyo
21Masahiro Ishigami (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama
22Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky
23Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team
24Genki Yamamoto (Jpn) Kinan
25Eiichi Hirai (Jpn) Team Ukyo
26Daiki Yasuhara (Jpn) Matrix Powertag
27Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:59
28Saya Kuroeda (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team
29Rick Zabel (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:01:02
30Jorge Arcas (Spa) Movistar Team
31Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) UAE Team Emirates0:01:04
32Kenji Nakanishi (Jpn) Kinan
33Airán Fernandez Casasola (Spa) Matrix Powertag
34Hayato Yoshida (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini
35Kohei Yokotsuka (Jpn) Team Ukyo
36Yuzuru Suzuki (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen
37Kazushige Kuboki (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama
38Keisuke Kimura (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team
39Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida
40Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
41Antonio Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida0:01:12
42Naoya Yoshioka (Jpn) Team Ukyo
43Shotaro Iribe (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team
44Sho Hatsuyama (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:01:17
45Tomoyuki Iino (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen
46Shoi Matsuda (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama
47Naoki Mukaigawa (Jpn) Matrix Powertag
48Hideto Nakane (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini0:01:21
49Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin0:01:26
50Eiya Hashimoto (Jpn) Special Team Japan for Saitama0:01:27
DNFTatsuki Amagoi (Jpn) Kinan
DNFShinya Mawatari (Jpn) Utsunomiya Blitzen
DNFMarino Kobayashi (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini

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