Spaniard Alejandro Valverde blasted to a sprint victory in the Clásica San Sebastian – a result which will give him high hopes for the Olympic road race next weekend.
Already a double Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, Valverde clinched his first ever victory in his country?s biggest one-day Classic by outsprinting CSC-Saxo Bank?s Alexander Kolobnev and Italian Davide Rebellin.
Third last year in the same race, Valverde?s first key move to victory was to bridge across to a huge break – of around 45 riders – that formed in the first hour.
This break effectively became the bunch of the Clasica after race commissaires stopped the main peloton when the gap between the two stretched to a massive 17 minutes with 80 kilometres to go.
Barring Tour winner Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank), all the big names were in the front group – Alberto Contador (Astana), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Euskaltel-Euskadi?s Samuel Sanchez.
On the Jaizkebel – usually decisive in the Clasica for seeing a break go clear – there were no significant developments except for Quick Step using up several of their six riders that had made it into the front group to keep things together.
On the second category Alto de Arkale on the run-in to San Sebastian, a move with Valverde, Sanchez, Rebellin, David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Bettini briefly opened up some ground. It didn?t work out, but in the flurry of counter-attacks that followed, the front group shrank to just a dozen.
A final challenge by Moncoutie was snuffed out with just 250 metres to go, at which point Valverde accelerated hard to win by over three bike lengths.
?The key thing was to get across in the first hour.? Valverde said afterwards. ?Normally, it all comes back on the Jaizkebel, but when we saw there was such a big move ahead, I realised I?d better try and get into it.?
?Finally only me, [team-mate Vladimir] Karpets and Andy Schleck [CSC-Saxo Bank] mnaged to get across at the last minute.?
?Then in the final sprint, I knew it was going to be difficult, but my form is good after finishing the Tour.? – where he took nineth overall and won the opening stage.
?I don?t know what my chances are in the Olympics, it?s going to be a bit of a lottery, but winning here was a very good sign. After that, I?ll head for the Vuelta, although it?ll be difficult to fight for the overall after such a long season.?
CLASICA SAN SEBASTIAN RESULTS
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 239km in 5hr 29min 11sec
2 Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) CSC-Saxo Bank
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
4 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
5 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
7 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8 Stephane Goubert (Fra) AG2R all same time
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2sec
10 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis same time
Davide Rebellin and Paolo Bettini
Damiano Cunego and Alberto Contador
Alejandro Valverde celebrates his win
Photos by Graham Watson