Vuelta a Andalucía: Alejandro Valverde climbs into the lead
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vuelta a Andalucía: Alejandro Valverde climbs into the lead

by Ben Atkins at 10:54 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results
Stage and jersey for Murcian who takes first post-suspension victory on home soil

alejandro valverdeAlejandro Valverde (Movistar) marked his return from suspension with his first victory on home soil, as he attacked on the final climb to the top of the Alto Santuario Virgen de Araceli at the finish of the second stage of the Vuelta a Andalucía - the Ruta del Sol - between Málaga and Lucena. The Murcian, who started the race as favourite for overall victory, escaped in the final kilometre of the steep climb, after a number of other attacks had been neutralised. He finished ten seconds clear of Denis Menchov (Katusha), who outsprinted Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) and Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) in to third and fourth respectively.

Valverde’s victory was only possible after his Movistar team, along with Saur-Sojasun and RadioShack-Nissan, had pulled back a stage-long break from Mickaël Buffaz of Cofidis. The lone Frenchman escaped 15km into the 144.7km stage, and was only caught with 5km to go, as he arrived at the foot of the final climb.

With his stage victory Valverde takes over the race lead from Project 1t4i’s prologue winner Patrick Gretsch, but sits just three seconds ahead of Taaramäe with two tough stages remaining.

“I'm tremendously happy and I want to thank all the team, because they were phenomenal from start to finish of the stage,” said Valverde afterwards. “They got their full support behind me from the beginning and I was able to reward them with the victory.

“To tell the truth we didn't plan to race with the leadership in mind,” explained the Murcian. “We were just going for the stage victory, because the GC was much complicated due to the short climb and the gap by some of our rivals on the overall. But I felt super strong, and with 400m to go I didn't hesitate and went on full steam into a steep slope.

“I didn't look back until the finish,” he added, “and althrough I wasn't thinking of it, we found another prize with the leader jersey.

“Now there are two hard stages, it's going to be difficult but we already took home a win and everything coming after that will be a plus,” Valverde continued. “I was a bit disappointed not to have a win in Mallorca and its good to taste it here. This is a very important win for me and the team, because we were up-front in all races but couldn't get a win.

“I want to dedicate this to all the fans always supporting me, and most especially, to Paco Sánchez Sabater, my agent's father, whom I wish to get well soon."

A solo Frenchman escapes and a local Andalucían gives belated chase

After its finish in the coastal town of Benalmadena on stage one, the race headed inland, into the Andalucían hills. Starting in the resort city of Málaga, the stage took an almost straight course north, taking in two 2nd, and one 3rd category climbs, before finishing at the top of the first category Santuario.

Buffaz escaped after 15km, as an early move from Cofidis teammate Nicolas Vogondy, and Lotto-Belisol’s Francis De Greef was neutralised by the peloton. There was no reaction to the Frenchman’s attack, and nobody went with him, and he quickly set about putting distance between himself and the peloton.

Jesus Rosendo (Andalucía) set off in pursuit a few kilometres later, but he wasn’t able to get close to Buffaz as he chased him across the 2nd category Alto de Patas Cortas, after 21.2km, and Puerto del Torcal, after 45.4km, and was back in the peloton at the 55km point.

Buffaz continued alone however, but, with his lead having peaked at 6’33” over the Torcal, he was beginning to lose his advantage. Movistar and Rabobank were leading the peloton, but no team was willing to fully commit at this early stage; as he crossed the 3rd category Alto de Benameji, after 90.2km, the Frenchman still held 5’04”.

With the memory of the previous stage’s miscalculation though, which allowed Andalucía’s Javier Ramirez to take the victory, the peloton was surely not going to make the same mistake twice.

Movistar decides that Buffaz’ time is now up

Sure enough, as Buffaz crossed the Meta Volante sprint, in Rute with less than 35km to go, his advantage had been cut to just 2’42”, and it was falling rapidly. Reaching the final ten kilometres of the stage, the Cofidis rider still had a minute but, with the road steadily rising from that point, he was suffering after having spent more than 100km alone; Movistar moved to the front of the peloton once more, the minute was quickly swallowed up, and he was caught as the final climb began.

This was the signal for more attacks though, and Movistar, having controlled the peloton for so long, found itself overtaken by a move from Aitor Galves (Caja Rural); Movistar’s Beñat Intxausti followed though, along with David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun) and Simon Spilak (Katusha).

Galvez found himself dropped by the others as the climb progressed but, as the peloton steadily pulled back the other three, Valverde launched himself with a kilometre to go. Menchov was the first rider to go after the Movistar captain, but the Russian was unable to catch him and Valverde crossed the line to take his second victory of the season, but his first in Spain since winning the 2009 Vuelta a España.

Result stage 2
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team
3. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Cofidis
4. Fränk Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan
5. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 13s
6. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 15s
7. Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 21s
8. Adrián Palomares (Spa) Andalucía
9. Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Jérôme Coppel (Fra) Saur-Sojasun

Standings after stage 3
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Cofidis @ 3s
3. Jérôme Coppel (Fra) Saur-Sojasun @ 8s
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team @ 14s
5. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 15s
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Project 1t4i @ 18
7. Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 21
8. Fränk Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan @ 22s
9. Matthias Brändle (Aut) Team NetApp @ 23s
10. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan @ 26s


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