Stage two?s uphill finish of the Vuelta at Jaén saw Alejandro Valverde blast off in the final 200 metres for a classy victory – and the overall lead.
He?s done it again. Wherever there?s an uphill finish in a stage race, you can always count on Alejandro Valverde to be the top favourite to win it. So the two-kilometre long drag up through the streets of Jaén was perfect terrain for the Caisse D?Epargne pro to blast away from his rivals – and Valverde used it.
Tactically the Spaniard could not be faulted. Valverde bided his time during a flurry of late attacks on the run-in to Jaen, then as the bunch regrouped, sent Caisse D?Epargne team captain Joaquim Rodriguez up the road in the final kilometre.
Rodriguez?s attack on the gently rising finishing straight had the desired effect on Liquigas? sprinter Daniele Bennati, who panicked and accelerated too early, with Valverde shadowing him just behind.
As Bennati began to flail on the relentless uphill gradient, Valverde came round the Italian, jumped away and took the stage by two seconds from Gerolsteiner?s Davide Rebellin. Game over.
It was an exact repeat of Valverde?s strategy and victory on similar-ish terrain in stage one of the Tour at Plumelec, which in turn was a repeat of his strategy and victory on stage two of the Dauphine Libere at Privas this June. Going even further back, Valverde had used the same tactic for a rainlashed stage win in the 2004 Vuelta, ahead of Stuart O?Grady and Denis Menchov.
Valverde?s fifth Vuelta stage win of his career has also given the Spaniard his first lead in his home race since 2006, when he finally finished second behind Alexandre Vinokourov.
Coming on the back of a strong team time trial for Caisse D?Epargne in Granada, the sight of Valverde donning the gold leader?s jersey has also given the two main favourites, Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) a great deal of food for thought about Valverde?s claims that he?s too tired to go for the general classification in Spain.
Perhaps Valverde means it. But neither Contador nor Sastre have forgotten that Valverde has already taken second, third and fourth overall in the Vuelta. First would be a nice addition to that particular run of results. Or that after he finished a disappointing nineth in the Tour de France, Valverde might have a point to prove on home turf.
Stage two, then, might just have been Valverde reminding the world he?s very good at uphill sprints. Or it might be the start of something bigger. Only time (and a 42 kilometre time trial on Wednesday) will tell – but at least Valverde?s attack has given the race a bit of much-needed intrigue in the meantime.
TOUR OF SPAIN: STAGE TWO RESULTS
Granada – Jaén
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse D?Epargne 176.3km in 4hr 23min 00sec
2. Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner at 2sec
3. Alessandro Ballan (Italy) Lampre
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) Silence-Lotto
5. Filippo Pozzato (Italy) Liquigas
6. Rinaldo Nocentini (Italy) Ag2R
7. Erik Zabel (Germany) Milram
8. Paolo Bettini (Italy) Quick Step
9. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) Francaise des Jeux
10. Xavier Florencio (Spain) Bouygues all same time
147. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole at 4min 14sec
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE TWO
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse D?Epargne 4hr 31min 10sec
2. Filippo Pozzato (Italy) Liquigas at 13sec
3. Daniele Bennati (Italy) Liquigas same time
4. Egoi Martinez (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 15sec
5. IñIgo Landaluze (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 19sec
6. Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner same time
7. Mauricio Ardila (Colombia) Rabobank at 20secv
8. Igor Anton (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 21sec
9. Ruben Perez (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Mikel Astarloza (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi all same time
147. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole at 4min 48sec
Liquigas on the front of the bunch
Alejandro Valverde wins the stage and takes the overall lead
Photos by Graham Watson
|TOUR OF SPAIN 2008|
Stage two: Valverde powers into lead
Stage one: Liquigas are surprise winners
Tour of Spain on Eurosport (schedule)
Behind the scenes at the Tour of Spain
Tour of Spain – still a week too long?
Tour of Spain kicks off this weekend