Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his crown at the 59th Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol, a four-day stage race ranked 2.1 on the UCI Europe calendar. He recorded top-and-tail wins in the prologue and queen stage to give him the edge over runner-up Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who took the combined jersey, and third-placed Bauke Mollema. That’s four wins – three stages and one overall – and a runner-up placing for Valverde in only seven days of racing so far in 2013. The other two stages were won by Jonathan Hivert. Tom Dumoulin (Argos-Shimano) was the king of the mountains, Luis Mas (Burgos-BH) won the sprints jersey and Movistar collected the award for best team, while Valverde himself claimed the points competition.
Defending champion Valverde (Movistar) zoomed around the straightforward 6km prologue course in San Fernando in a time of 6:46 – a 20-second improvement on his time last year – to take the opening stage of this four-day race. Runner-up, two seconds back, was Simon Spilak (Katusha) while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) was four seconds behind in third.
Big win today and most of all satisfied for improving a lot in ITT 👍
— alejandro valverde(@alejanvalverde) February 17, 2013
Etoile de Besseges winner, Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) won the sprint from a large breakaway on Monday’s 164km stage from San Fernando to Ubrique. Valverde finished second to retain the overall lead and Bauke Mollema (Blanco) was third.
An early escape group built a lead of over four minutes from which Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) took a flyer on the second category three climb of the day. However, he was finally pulled back on the final category one climb, Puerto de Las Palomas, 34km from the finish. On the run in to Ubrique a large group formed, including race leader Valverde, which gained about a minute on the rest, to contest the sprint finish.
Hivert made it back-to-back victories in the bunch sprint at the end of the undulating 194.2km stage from Trebujena to Montilla ahead of Farrar, who keeps racking up those runner-up slots. Francesco Lasca of Caja Rural was third. Valverde finished in the peloton to keep the leader’s jersey, seven seconds clear of Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), second overall.
The stage featured yet another early breakaway which built an advantage of eight minutes. Despite Clement Lhotellerie’s (Colba-Superano Ham) solo bid over the Alto de Santaella, the trio were all back in the peloton with 17km to run thanks largely to the work done by Movistar. The peloton remained intact over the two last climbs to arrive all together at the finish where Hivert won his second consecutive stage. After the stage, a delighted Hivert said:
I’m happy: I’ve never won a stage race: I did that at Besseges. I’ve never won two consecutive stages. That’s now done. I have never recorded more than two wins per season; I’ve now done that too. I think I can now go on holiday!
Valverde took his second victory on the last, queen stage, 183km from Luceno to Rincon de la Victoria, beating Spilak and veteran Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat Polkowice) to the finish.
A two-man breakaway set off after 30km only to be captured in the final run-in. Astana and Lotto-Belisol combined resources to try to spoil the Movistar party but Valverde, ably supported – as he was in last year’s Vuelta a Espana – by teammate Nairo Quintana formed part of a select 12-man group which included all the other leading contenders that went clear of the peloton on the final descent. Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) launched a solo attack but it was all in vain as Valverde proved to be the strongest rider on the day.
Recuperando después de un día duro / recovering after a tough day. twitter.com/alejanvalverde…
— alejandro valverde(@alejanvalverde) February 18, 2013
Analysis & opinion
Movistar will leave Andalucia with smiles on their faces as Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana (seventh overall) and indeed the rest of the team ably defended their Ruta del Sol crown with a truly dominating performance. Next up for Valverde at the weekend is his home tour, the Vuelta a Murcia – reduced from a two to a one-day race due to economic difficulties – where he’ll come up against many of the protagonists from this race. Will he go for the win or help teammate Quintana defend his title? Both riders are clearly in fine form and, dare I say, better than at the same time last year.
Lotto-Belisol will also look back on the performances of Jurgen Van Den Broeck (runner-up) and Bart de Clerq (fifth overall) with pleasure and expectation of maybe better things to come in respectively Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice.
Jonathan Hivert‘s two wins will have helped plead their cause for one of the three Tour de France wild cards. He’ll hope to carry this form into Paris-Nice. Elsewhere, there were strong performances from Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), hoping to lay claim to leadership responsibilities in one of the Grand Tours and another solid Blanco performance, this time from Bauke Mollema, as they continue their hunt for a replacement sponsor.
Personally, I was delighted to see Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) giving it a go on the queen stage. He came away empty-handed but his aggression augurs well for forthcoming races such as Paris-Nice, where he’ll be riding with his older brother Gorka.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 13:47:17
2. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +0:07
3. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) +0:11
4. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +0:12
5. Bart De Clerq (Lotto-Belisol) +0:17
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0:19
7. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:24
8. Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) +0:30
9. Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat Polkowice) same time
10 Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) +0:38
Link: Official race website