There was a mouthwatering array of talent, both established stars and up-and-comers, to contest the 97th edition of the Volta a Catalunya, which featured some fine racing along with time-penalties, trolling, a snow-shortened stage, echelons, Merckx-like time gaps and over 40 riders outside the time limit. Despite this, Alejandro Valverde sensationally soloed to victory in Friday’s queen stage for the overall lead and won the final stage to take his second title, ahead of this and last year’s runner-up, Alberto Contador, and his third-placed Movistar teammate Marc Soler.
Rider of the Race
There can only be one rider of this race for me and that is the evergreen Alejandro Valverde who, despite being penalised a minute in the TTT, put together a winning campaign. His win atop La Lina on Wednesday was the prelude to a wondrous three victories in five days and crowned some superb teamwork by Movistar, who took home the team prize.
Valverde crafted his overall victory on Friday’s queen stage, when windy roads before the last climb shattered the peloton into four echelons before his teammates, Ruben Fernandez and Marc Soler, took over into the climb. Soler then led a five-man elite group (Valverde, Contador, Chris Froome and Adam Yates) for the last 4km until Valverde initiated the decisive move, just before the flamme rouge, to solo across the line and don the leader’s jersey.
But there was more to come! On Saturday, the bunch broke into three groups just 30kms into the race then further splits on the wet, technical descent of the Coll de Bot, created a 50-rider front group that included all six remaining Movistar riders. Bala was just bested in the bunch-sprint for the line by Daryl Impey. Surprisingly caught out of position early on, Sky (all of them) finished a whopping 26 minutes down – just one minute inside the time limit! Valverde then wrapped up the race by winning the final stage. I can imagine the Spanish fans were chanting: “Easy, easy, easy!”
The Green Bullet is in fine form heading into the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and his beloved Ardennes Classics where he’s recorded seven victories. Don’t bet against him adding to that tally.
It’s third-placed and best young rider Marc Soler who’s caught everyone’s eye this year. A former Tour de L’Avenir winner, the 23-year-old Catalan climber demonstrated maturity and impressive talent leading the elite group on the last section of the queen stage and helped propel Valverde to victory on the stage and overall. Saturday’s split in the peloton permitted him to pop up onto the podium and there he stayed. He garnered many compliments, most notably from his team leader, Valverde who said:
Soler? He’s a really talented boy, you all could see it. He won the Tour de l’Avenir, excelled into the mountains prior, but seeing how strong he rode this week, I can tell this to you: he’s got whatever he wants to win in his legs.
Last year’s fresh face, Hugh Carthy, now with Cannondale-Drapac finished 20th overall.
Gimme a push!
Movistar won one of the longest and hardest TTTs for a while by a mere two seconds from BMC. However, there had been some skullduggery. Movistar’s sprinter Jose Joaquin Rojas had been hanging onto the back of the Movistar train, allegedly with a broken saddle, when he began pushing teammates back into the slipstream, dramatically improving the efficiency of their pace line and speed (which is why it’s banned by the UCI). Protests ensued and, the following day, only the riders involved in #Pushgate suffered time penalties (a one-minute penalty per push).
However, that wasn’t the end of it. The problem seemed to revolve around an interpretation of the UCI rules where the French and English versions didn’t quite align. Common sense prevailed and the remaining Movistar riders, including race leader Valverde, were handed one minute penalties and BMC were installed as the victors and leaders on GC.
Some retaliatory trolling followed:-
Clearly, there were no hard feelings!
1 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 25:27:15
2 Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +1:03
3 Marc Soler (Movistar) +1:16
4 Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) +1:31
5 Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +1:34
Points Jersey: Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac)
King of the Mountains Jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Best Young Rider Jersey: Marc Soler (Movistar)
Team Classification Leader: Movistar
Stage 1: Davide Cimolai (FDJ) Final KM here
Stage 2: TTT –
Movistar BMC Final KM here
Stage 3: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) Final KM here
Stage 4: Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) Final KM here
Stage 5: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) Final KM here
Stage 6: Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) Final KM here
Stage 7: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) Final KM to come
Header: The podium Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2017 – Movistar/Gomez Sport