Alejandro Valverde rounded out cycling’s weekend break in Italy with a win at Roma Maxima. He broke clear of the field alongside Domenico Pozzovivo with 36km remaining, holding off both the Italian and a marauding peloton to take victory on the line.
Valverde the gladiator
There’s no doubt about it, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is in fantastic form. This is already the Spaniard’s sixth victory of the season, after he swept up three stages en route to his third consecutive Vuelta a Andalucía, as well as winning the one-day Vuelta a Murcia. Alongside his podium at Strade Bianche yesterday, it’s been a great start to the season for the Spaniard.
Valverde has won three Ardennes classics in the past, though hasn’t done so since Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 2008. This season, that could well change. He turns 34 next month, though he’s showing no signs of slowing down. The only concern is that his form may have peaked too early, though he’s more than experienced enough to manage his fitness. He’s a serious force to be reckoned with.
Pozzovivo fades in the finale
With Valverde having broken clear with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) on the final climb – still with over 35km remaining – you might have expected the duo to have worked together to open up and maintain a gap. But, despite the subtle prodding of the Movistar sporting director – who suggestively furnished the Italian with a gel with 15km remaining – he left the lion’s share of the work up to his breakaway companion. And we’re talking a big lion.
It’s hardly surprising that the Italian gratefully accepted the food but politely declined the offer to contribute to the pacemaking. You’re not going to cajole one of the peloton’s brightest sparks quite that easily. Pozzovivo knew that he was the vastly inferior sprinter of the pairing, so was quite happy to suck Valverde’s wheel and maximise his own slim chances of beating him in a sprint. Unfortunately he didn’t have the strength in the finale, and was swept up by the onrushing peloton.
Absence of race radios spices up the racing
It is generally accepted that having race radios in pro cycling is a good idea, with various protests and potentially lethal situations – memorably Orica-GreenWEDGE’s bus stuck under the finish line at last year’s Tour de France – doing nothing to suggest otherwise. But perhaps no one would be as ardent a campaigner for race radios as Pippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), who thought he’d won this race last year, only to cross the finish line and be told Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) had actually beaten him to it in a solo breakaway.
Fortunately this year there was no comparably cringeworthy moment, despite the riders still being deprived of their race radios. As this is a UCI Europe Tour race, they are banned, and while that may pose some safety concerns – for the riders’ pride as much as anything else – few could argue it has made for some interesting racing over the last couple of days.
It is no coincidence that we’ve seen the winner emerge from unusually early breakaways, with Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) escaping successfully at Strade Bianche yesterday, and Valverde and Pozzovivo doing the same today. Though all four riders are relatively big names, this unpredictability played into the hands of some of the more unlikely hopefuls – much like Blel Kadri last year – and would’ve been a nightmare for the control freaks behind the wheels of the team cars, who would’ve found it much more difficult to organise a chase.
Race at a glance
6 – This win is Alejandro Valverde’s sixth win of the season – he is now tied with Andre Greipel for the most victories in 2014 – and his first at Roma Maxima.
2 – Roma Maxima has been running much longer than Strade Bianche, starting under the Giro del Lazio title back in 1933. Despite that, Valverde is only the second Spaniard to take glory in front of the Colosseum after the newly-retired Juan Antonio Flecha ten years ago.
5 – The position in which Domenico Pozzovivo finished after being swept up in the last few hundred metres.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 4:45:45
2. Davide Appollonio (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:01
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) same time
4. Antonio Parrinello (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) s/t
5. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
6. Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthcare) s/t
7. Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) s/t
8. Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
9. Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano)
10. Mauro Finetto (Yellow Fluo)
Race links & reports: Official website, cyclingnews.com