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With a brave attack 7km from the top of the final climb, Valverde managed to gain enough time on van Garderen to win both the final stage and the overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia; Mollema was second and Majka third

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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BAUKE MOLLEMA

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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RAFAL MAJKA

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TEJAY VAN GARDEREN

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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21.02.2016 @ 16:46 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finally opened his 2016 account in the most impressive fashion by riding to an amazing solo win at the top of the Alto Peñas Blancas on the final day of the Vuelta a Andalucia. Attacking seven kilometres from the top of the climb, he rode half of the ascent alone and managed to put 36 seconds into Bauke Mollema (Trek) and 42 seconds into Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). Race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC) could only manage fourth and his time loss allowed Valverde to take the overall win ahead of the American, with Mollema completing the podium.

 

It has been an unusual season for Alejandro Valverde who is known for his ability to win races right from the start of the year. However, things have been different in 2016 as the Spaniard had failed to take the single win more than three weeks after he lined up for his first race in Mallorca.

 

If one was wondering whether Valverde was slowing down, they were completely wrong though. Today the Spaniard delivered what is probably the greatest performance yet in the 2016 season when he rode to an impressive solo win on the queen stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia.

 

Having lost 22 seconds to Tejay van Garderen in the time trial, Valverde knew that he could not wait for the sprint if he wanted to win the race overall for a fourth time. Hence, he hit out already 7km from the finish and from there he time triallied his way to amazing solo victory.

 

The group was back together on the lower slopes of the 14.8km final climb of Alto Peñas Blancas where Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) and Nicolas Roche (Sky) were brought back. BMC were on the front of the peloton with Damiano Caruso setting the pace as Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) launched an immediate attack. The Belgian stayed around 5 seconds ahead of the peloton for a kilometre but when Samuel Sanchez took over the pace-setting, he was brought back.

 

With 12km to go, Sky decided that it was time to make the race hard after Sanchez had created a huge selection. Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) hit the front and he immediately neutralized an attack from Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis).

 

The group was down to around 20 riders as the Belarusian powered along. He didn’t react when Movistar played their first card with Daniel Moreno taking off 8km from the finish.

 

Gianni Moscon took over from Kiryienka before Mikel Nieve was the next Sky rider to ride on the front. He upped the pace significantly and easily brought Moreno back. His acceleration whittled the group down to himself, his team leader Wout Poels, Brent Bookwalter, van Garderen (both BMC), Daniel Navarro, Maté (both Cofidis), Rafal Majka, Roman Kreuziger (both Tinkoff), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Valverde, Moreno (both Movistar), Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) and Igor Anton (Dimension Data).

 

Moreno was dropped with 7km to go just before Valverde decided to make his move. With one of his trademark accelerations, he immediately created a significant gap and he had already put 15 seconds into the group when Nieve swung off.

 

The pace briefly went out of the group until Bookwalter sacrificed himself for van Garderen. The American set a fast pace that was clearly putting riders like De Clercq, Poels, Nieve, Anton and Kelderman in the hurt zone but he was losing the battle to Valverde.

 

With 6km to go, Valverde was 15 seconds ahead and he had pushed it out to 32 seconds just one kilometre later. As he entered the final 4km, it was almost a minute and van Garderen was about to lose it all.

 

Bookwalter emptied himself and when he swung off, Kreuziger took over to set Majka up for a stage win. However, the gap went out to a minute with 3.5km to go where De Clercq and Bookwalter swung off.

 

Kreuziger reduced the gap to 50 seconds but when he swung off, van Garderen had to step in. The American made a big attack and quickly shaved 10 seconds off Valverde’s lead.

 

Mollema and Majka joined the American but refused to lend him a hand. Meanwhile, Poels was leading the peloton but they were losing ground and out of the running for the overall win.

 

From there, it was a battle between van Garderen and Valverde. At one point, the gap dropped to 35 seconds but for most of the time, it stayed constant at 40 seconds.

 

As Valverde passed the flamme rouge, the stage win was no longer in doubt but the overall win was still up in the air. However, he managed to put even more time into van Garderen in the final kilometre and after sprinting to the line, he could celebrate a double victory.

 

Mollema attacked in the finale to take second while Majka also dropped van Garderen to take third. Further back, the group splintered to pieces, with Kreuziger and Navarro being the best of the rest.

 

The victory saw Valverde continue his string of wins in Andalucia after he won the race in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He skipped it in 2015 but is now back on top in his comeback as he claims victory with a 26-second advantage over van Garderen. Mollema managed to gain enough time to move into third, 52 seconds behind Valverde and just four seconds ahead of Kelderman. Majka completes the top 5.

 

Ben Swift (Sky) won the points competition while Caruso was the best climber. Baugnies won the sprints classification while BMC were the best team. Valverde topped the combination classification and was also the best Spanish rider and Maté the best Andalusian rider.

 

With the Vuelta a Andalusia now over, the Spanish calendar takes a big break. The next major event is the Volta a Catalunya in the second half of March.

 

The queen stage

After the time trial, it was finally time to head into the real mountains on the final day which brought the riders over 164.2km from San Roque to a mountaintop finish on the Alto Peñas Blancas. After a flat start, the riders tackled a category 1, a category 3 and a category 2 climb in quick succession before they headed up the Alto Peñas Blancas for the first time. The summit was located 47.8km from the finish and from there the riders descended to the city of Estepona where they did a flat circuit before they went up the climb from the other side. It averaged 6.2% over 14.8km and the finish line was located at the top.

 

It was a great sunny day when the 147 riders gathered for the start and they were ready to ride aggressively right from the gun. The many attacks resulted in the creation of a large group with Ben Swift (Team Sky), Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Juan José Lobato (Movistar), Tosh Van der Sande ( Lotto Soudal), Roy Curvers (Team Giant - Alpecin), Fabian Grellier (Direct Energie), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Antwan Tolhoek (Roompot - Oranje Peloton), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty - Groupe Gobert), Filippo Pozzato (South East - Venezuela), José Vicente Toribio (Matrix Powertag) and Imanol Estévez (Euskadi Basque Country - Murias) which had an advantage of 18 seconds after 7km og racing. Ten kilometers later the gap had increased to 31 seconds. While Pablo Torres (Burgos) was the first rider to abandon, the ga went out to 47 seconds at the 33km mark.

 

More attacks

After 43km of racing, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) and Dimitri Claeys (Wanty) bridged across but just two kilometers later it was all back together after a fast first hour which was done at an average speed of 44.2km/h.

 

The next group consisted of Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal), Swift, Peter Stetina (Trek), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty) and Imanol Estevez (Euskadi) but they never got a lead of more than 15 seconds. At the same time Ander Insausti (Euskadi) and Kleber Ramos (Funvic) left the race.

 

A trio is formed

Another large group with Sylvester Szmyd (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal), Alexandre Pichot (Direct Energie), Ben Swift (Sky), Riccardo Zoidl (Trek - Segafredo), Bart de Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek - Segafredo, Eliot Lietaer (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise), Rory Sutherland (Movistar) and Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data) got clear and they were joined by the Movistar duo Ruben Fernandez and Juan Jose Lobato . However, BMC chased hard, and at the top of the first climb it was all back together. At the same time, the mass exodus continued as Raymond Kreder (Roompot - Oranje Peloton), Igor Boev (Gazprom - RusVelo), Evgeny Shalunov (Gazprom - RusVelo), Kristian Sbaragli ( dimension Data), Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) and Bert Van Leberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) all left the race. The KOM sprint was won by Jay Mccarthy (Tinkoff) ahead of Rory Sutherland (Movistar), Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Segafredo), Rubén Fernández (Movistar) and Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal).

 

On the second climb, Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Benat Txoperena (Euskadi) managed to escape, and they had 20 seconds after 60 km of racing. The latter was dropped and instead Simon Gescke (Giant-Alpecin) joined the move. At the top of the climb, Fernandez was first across the line, followed by Wellens and Geschke.

 

Wellens takes off in a solo move

Wellens led Geschke and Fernandez over the top of the third climb with a gap to the peloton of 1:37 before Damiano Caruso (BMC) sprinted ahead to take the last point. At the same time, Julien Morice (Direct Energie) abandoned.

 

Wellens attacked on the descent, and after 109 km of racing, he was 26 seconds ahead of his former companions. With 60km to go, he had an advantage of 1.35 over the peloton as they approached the first passage of the Peñas Blancas.

 

Gilbert sets the pace

Geschke and Fernandez crashed and so were brought back by the peloton which was led by Philippe Gilbert (BMC). He ended his work with 55km to go where Caruso took over.

 

The Italian upped the pace and reduced the gap to 1.00 with 50km to go. Here Ben Hermans took over for BMC as the fight for position for the descent slowly started.

 

Roche takes off

With 47km to go, Hermans had reduced the gap to 40 seconds where he kept it stable until Sky played their first card. Roche accelerated with 45km to go and immediately got company from Baugnies.

 

BMC didn’t react and Wellens reached the top with a 15-second advantage over Roche and Baugnies who crossed the line in that order. Hermans, Caruso, Bookwalter and van Garderen were first from the peloton that was 45 seconds behind.

 

A trio gathers in the front

Wellens nearly crashed on the descent and that allowed Roche who dropped Baugnies, to join him. Baugnies also made the junction and they entered the final 35km with an advantage of 35 seconds.

 

Gilbert returned to the front and let the peloton down the descent. At the bottom, he had reduced the gap to 20 seconds and together with Hermans, he set the pace in the city of Estepona.

 

The break is caught

The gap went out to 35 seconds before the two Belgians again upped the pace. Meanwhile, Baugnies secured the sprints jersey by winning the intermediate sprint ahead of Roche and Wellens.

 

With 16km to go, the gap was down to just 15 seconds and as Hermans and Gilbert emptied themselves, they caught the break on the lower slopes. That’s where Vanendert kicked off the exciting finale from which Valverde emerged triumphant.

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