Alejandro Valverde showed that he was still one of the finest riders on short, steep finishing climbs when he dispatched his three breakaway companions on the cruel slopes of the Alto Mas de las Costa on the seventh stage of the Vuelta a Espana today.
The reigning world champion from Movistar moved to the front of the leading quartet in the final 200m and slowly cranked up the speed to cross the line in front of race favourite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). Colombians Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), third overall last year, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) crossed the line in third and fourth respectively.
After the four had moved clear of the leading group, Quintana became the main aggressor on the first category ascent that had pitches well in excess of 20 per cent in places. Already a winner of a stage in this year’s race, the experienced little climber knew he had to distance his rivals before the finish if he wanted to stand a chance of another victory.
He accelerated half a dozen times without being able to establish a clear gap to the others. The 29-year-old was chiefly marked by Roglic, with Lopez and Valverde sitting in. Every time Quintana upped the tempo, Roglic took it upon himself to drag the group back into contention.
As they moved to within 500m of the finish, the odds swung in the favour of the 39-year-old Valverde, who is a five-time winner of the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic that finishes on a similarly brutal climb. The Spaniard did not disappoint as he drove around the final bend and powered to what would have been an immensely satisfying victory.
The final two survivors of the early breakaway – Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates) – were reeled in by the peloton as soon as the 4.5km final climb started.
With the red jersey Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) losing ground before the final climb and trailing the leaders by several minutes, it was clear that the leaders’ jersey would be up for grabs and it was Lopez who did just enough to take the overall lead ahead of Roglic.
“I’m happy with the way things are going and I’m happy with my second place,” said Roglic.
More results can be viewed below.
Stage seven results
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 4:34:11
2. Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team +0:00:06
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
5. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe +0:00:42
6. Ion Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana Pro Team +0:00:48
7. Tradej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates +0:00:51
8. Fabiou Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
9. Geroge Bennett (NZI) Team Jumbo-Visma +0:01:07
10. Oscar Rodriguez Garaicoechae (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias +0:01:20
16. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Dimension Data +0:01:58
107. Nicholas Dlamini (RSA) Dimension Data +0:23:38
124. Willie Smit (RSA) Katusha-Alpecin +0:24:14
132. Jaco Venter (RSA) Dimension Data +0:24:48
1. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team 28:19:13
2. Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma +0:00:06
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team +0:00:16
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team +0:00:27
5. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe +0:01:58
6. Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates +0:02:36
7. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott +0:02:52
8. George Bennett (NZI) Team Jumbo- Visma +0:03:34
9. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb +0:03:36
10. Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
24. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Dimension Data +0:10:43
71. Nicholas Dlamini (RSA) Dimension Data +0:39:56
106. Willie Smit (RSA) Katusha-Alpecin +0:56:19
133. Jaco Venter (RSA) Dimension Data +1:08:09