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The race leader easily responds to all attacks in the hectic finale on the final climb before launching his impressive sprint to take his third win and add another second to his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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DANIEL NAVARRO GARCIA

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LUIS LEÓN SÁNCHEZ

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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21.02.2014 @ 16:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is seemingly unbeatable in the Vuelta a Andalusia after he added today's queen stage to the wins he took on the first two days on the race. The Spaniard easily responded to all attacks on the final climb before unleashing his impressive burst of speed to hold off Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) to add another second to his overall lead.

 

Alejandro Valverde is simply in a class of his own in the Vuelta a Andalusia as no one is seemingly able to challenge the Spaniard just the slightest bit. Having crushed the opposition in the opening prologue and in yesterday's short, explosive finish, he added another win to his tally by dominating today's queen stage.

 

The stage ended at the top of an 11.5km category 1 climb whose average gradient of 6.0% was not overly tough. As expected, it was the Sky train who hit the front right from its lower slopes as the British team tried to set Richie Porte up for an assault on Valverde's race lead.

 

The British team rode tempo all the way up the climb and created a gradual elimination until only 15 riders remained in the group of favourites when they passed the flamme rouge. Having been set up by his teammate Geraint Thomas, Porte tried his attack but Valverde responded with ease.

 

Instead, it was Daniel Navarro who launched repeated attacks in the finale, drawing clear a small group consisting of the Spaniard, Valverde, Porte, Michele Scarponi (Astana) and Luis Leon Sanchez. However, Valverde was apparently at ease when he responded to the accelerations and always had everything under control.

 

Finally, the race leader opened his sprint with less than 200m to go and even though Sanchez - himself a fast finisher - was positioned right on his wheel, the Caja Rural leader had to match to his speed. At the line, Valverde had opened a 1-second gap to complete the hattrick in Andalusia.

 

Porte rolled across the line in 5th and is now 20 seconds behind Valverde in 2nd on GC, with Sanchez being 2 seconds further adrift. The final two days are easier and barring disaster Valverde will take his 3rd consecutive win in the Spanish race.

 

Tomorrow's stage is the easiest of the entire race. The 183.8km from Sanlucar la Mayor to Sevilla are almost entirely flat, meaning that the sprinters are likely to come to the fore.

 

The queen stage

The third day of racing was the day of the queen stage which took the riders over 197.1km from La Guardia de Jaen to the top of the category 1 climb to Sant. de la Sierra de Cabra. The first part of the stage was mostly flat, with only two category 3 climbs at the midpoint preceding the final climb to the finish.

 

The race was off to an extremely fast and aggressive start as several teams were keen to be involved in the early action. It took a long time for the day's escape to be established, with the break finally taking off after 16km of racing.

 

A strong break

Branislau Samoilau (CCC), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano), Jordi Simon (Ecuador), Romain Zingle (Cofidis), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol), and Markel Irizar (Trek) make up today's break but they were only slowly allowed to build a gap. After 42km , it was only 3.20 and Movistar had already started to stabilize it.

 

The Spanish team allowed it to grow to a maximum of 5.05 at th3 63km mark before they decided to start to reel in the escapees. Eros Capecchi, Imanol Erviti, and Javier Moreno swapped turns on the front and the trio had to ride hard to keep the strong break under control.

 

Geschke scores points

Geschke beat Simon at the top of both category 3 climbs, with Samoilau and Zeist taking 3rd. At this point, the gap had dropped to below the 4-minute mark and Movistar had stabilized it between 3- and four minutes.

 

The break decided to react by upping the pace, bringing the gap up to close to the 4-minute mark but this only prompted a reaction from Movistar. With 50km to go, the advantage was down to 1.50.

 

Movistar stabilize the gap

Movistar sports director Jose Luis Arrieta asked his riders to slow down a bit and so they kept the gap stable between 1.50 and 2.10 for next kilometres. Meanwhile, Samoilau and Simon fell off the pace in the front group and with 40km to go, they were back in the fold.

 

As the peloton approached the final climb, the battle for position kicked off in earnest and this automatically increased the pace. Moreno, Erviti, and Capecchi fell off the pace, leaving it to Ruben Plaza to set the pace for Movistar in the run-in to the climb.

 

The break is caught

The break started the climb with just a 25-second advantage but right from the bottom Sky hit the front with all their 7 riders. Xabier Zandio was the first in the chain and he quickly brought the early escape back into the fold.

 

From there, it was a gradual elimination race as Sky's hard pace discouraged any attacks. When Zandio swung off, Bradley Wiggins took a huge turn before being replaced by Edvald Boasson Hagen.

 

Kiryienka whittles down the peloton

Vasil Kiryienka had the longest stint on the front, and by the time he finished his work, only Kennaugh, Porte, Thomas, Valverde, Iazagirre, Navarro, Sanchez, Scarponi, Ten Dam, Arredondo, Mollema Kangert, Pardilla, Mate, Degand, Monfort, De Clercq, Arroyo and Garcia remained. Next in line was Peter Kennaugh who continued the pace-setting until Thomas was the final rider to set up Porte with 2.4km to go.

 

When Thomas led the peloton under the flamme rouge, the front group was down to Thomas, Porte, Valverde, Izagirre, Scarponi, Pardilla, Arredondo, Navarro, Kangert, Degand, Sanchez, Mollema Mate, Garcia and Ten Dam, with the latter clearly struggling at the back. With 500m to go, Porte finally tried his hand but the attempt was clearly not launched with his full capacity.

 

Navarro attacks

Instead, Navarro tried his hand, with only Valverde, Porte, and Scarponi being able to respond. The Spaniard tried another three times but failed to get clear as Valverde responded to all attacks.

 

Sanchez managed to rejoin the front and positioned himself well on Valverde's wheel. When the race leader opened his sprint, however, he had no response, meaning that Valverde could complete his hattrick with ease.

 

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