Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne) proved that he has not forgotten his sprinting roots when he made a stunning dash for the line at the end of the Dauphine Libere?s first stage.
Valverde was more than two bike lengths ahead of fastman Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) when he crossed the finish line, at the end of an interminable, 14 kilometre, uphill grind from the River Rhone all the way to the mountain town of Privas.
Second in the prologue and second again on Monday, Hushovd had the consolation of taking over as Dauphine race leader.
But with the Tour barely a month away, it was Valverde?s coldly calculated lunge for the line, and the ease with which he did so, that gives food for thought. Sixth in the 2007 Tour, the rider who started his career as a sprinter has come a long way indeed.
?I?m not really a sprinter any more, if you put me and Thor on a flat piece of road he?d beat me every time.? Valverde said.
?But this was exactly my kind of finish, because it was uphill and came at the end of a long climb.? Given Valverde has won Liege-Bastogne-Liege twice and Fleche Wallone once, you could hardly argue with that.
Valverde also made a point of thanking his team, Caisse D?Epargne, although he could well have thanked High Road as well.
The American squad kept the pace suitably high right up until the end, when their leader George Hincapie suddenly collapsed and disappeared out of the running. After a brief attack by a Gerolsteiner rider, Valverde and Hushovd came to the fore.
?I tried to stay on his wheel but it just wasn?t possible.? Hushovd said ruefully afterwards. ?Just like yesterday, when Levi [Leipheimer] beat me [by a second], today it was equally close.?
?I was really hoping to win today, because Astana didn?t help us at all to pull back the break of the day. But what happened, happened.?
The million dollar question of course is; what Valverde can do in the overall classification at the Dauphine and the Tour?
?I feel good, better even than I expected.? Valverde said afterwards. ?What?s really important about this victory is that it?s given me really good morale for the Alpine stages of the Dauphine. ?
?But I would prefer to take it all on the day by day, rather than going in too deep.?
And as for the Tour? ?I?m up there in the top six favourites.? Valverde said. ?And it could be a good year for me.? Cadel Evans, you have been warned.
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008 STAGE ONE
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 194km in 4hr 46min 36sec
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
3 Bjorn Schroder (Ger) Milram
4 Fabian Wegman (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
7 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues
8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9 Peter Velits (Slovakia) Milram
10 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas
69 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas all same time
DAUPHINE LIBERE OVERALL STANDINGS
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 4hr 52min 41sec
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne at 1sec
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 5sec
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 17sec
5 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Ag2R same time
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 18sec
7 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Milram same time
8 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 19sec
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10 Craig Lewis (USA) High Road all same time
52 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 33secs
Alejandro Valverde takes the first road stage of the 2008 Dauphine
Alejandro Valverde celebrates after crossing the line
Thanks to his second place today – and in yesterday’s prologue – Thor Hushovd takes the race lead from Levi Leipheimer
All photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Prologue: Leipheimer soars to Dauphine prologue win
Sunday, June 8 (Prologue)