Alejandro Valverde wrote another page of his legend next to the Caminito del Rey walkway, end of the scorching, demanding stage two in the 2018 Vuelta a España -163km with plenty of hills and wind from the start in Marbella-, to further honour a race which has given him just as much he’s offered to it. The Murcia native, a crucial member of the Movistar Team’s history for nearly two decades, won the sprint atop the Alto de Guadalhorce (Cat-3) ahead of Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY), following sensational work from his team-mates and great strategy and intelligence by ‘Bala’ into the last kilometer.
The good pacing and positioning work at the front of the bunch from Imanol Erviti and Daniele Bennati into the last 40km was followed by strong, race-breaking turns from Andrey Amador and Nelson Oliveira, who left only 40 riders into the main field as they tackled the decisive 5km climb. A move with less than two kilometers to go by Laurens de Plus (QST) put the punchy climbers’ chances into jeopardy, yet a wise, effective Valverde knew when the right moments to attack were: an acceleration with 600m remaining, with only Kwiatkowski on his wheel, was continued by a majestic sprint to beat the Polish champion and claim his tenth career stage success in La Vuelta.
Valverde, who has got now 120 victorias as a professional competitor, has taken the Movistar Team’s tally up to 25 in 2018 -nearly half of them, twelve, thanks to ‘Bala’-, and reached today another legendary milestone: equalling with 97 victories, all that he has obtained bar the 23 scored as part of the Kelme outfit, a certain Miguel Indurain as most successful rider in the 39-year history of the Abarca Sports organisation, active since 1980. Nairo Quintana, well supported by the rest of Unzué’s squad, did not have any problems either to stay with the top contenders -9th over the line- and enter the GC top-ten, Kwiatkowski now in the lead with 14″ over Alejandro.
Alejandro Valverde: “Surprised? I am, but I’m not at the same time. I knew my legs were going to do well here. After the Tour de France, I tried to rest up as much as I could, spent a lot of time on flat roads next to the coastline in Murcia, trying to stay focused but calm and relaxed at the same time, making the right form come to me and hoping to progress over the next three weeks here in La Vuelta. The progress I followed throughout August has been proven to be the right one with this victory.
“Before the start, we already had clear instructions of going to the front with the whole team into the final circuit, because there were dangerous, narrow zones where you had to take over if you didn’t want to get caught out of position. The heat really hurt many people, I was surprised to see so many riders dropping back though. Hearing on the radio that real contenders for this win were getting out of contention, we were more motivated about seeking for this victory. I knew the biggest rival for today was ‘Kwiato’, but couldn’t wait to just launch the sprint because De Plus was ahead of us. I waited until the last 550-600 metres, thinking about having to go on one long attack through the last few turns. I think I timed that first effort well; Kwiatkowski was like one metre behind after my move, and you could see he had taken a big effort to follow my wheel. I let him overtake me because the last turn right, because I knew that the final slopes gave me a chance to go past, and once we were on that final straight, I just launched my sprint to come out on top.”
“For the time being, we’ve already got a victory, and achieved one of the goals I had in mind coming into this Vuelta. The Tour de France just didn’t go as I expected. I didn’t feel my legs as I wanted them to. I was also eager to score a victory after two months, and coming back to winning ways in La Vuelta after missing last year’s race. La Vuelta – I love the race. The Giro is nice. The Tour is nice. However, the Vuelta is my race. I’m a Spaniard. I love it. We’ve got off to a great start, and it’s day-by-day for us again after this. Any GC plans? I don’t rule myself out of contention at all, since I’ve shown I’m doing great and we’re just getting started, but our only leader has to be Nairo, and I can’t say I’ll stay focused at every single stage not to lose time, 100%, because it just doesn’t work like that for me in this race. There are other goals in mind. And if Nairo needs me to work for him because he’s in a position to win the Vuelta outright, I won’t hesitate to offer him a hand.”