Is there anything Alejandro Valverde can?t do? After outsprinting Hushovd on Monday, on Wednesday the versatile Spaniard outgunned the time triallists for his second stage win – and the lead.
It has to be said that if there was ever going to be a medium-length time trial that Valverde could win, it was this one.
With barely a metre of flat on the narrow, twisting, poorly surfaced roads, not to mention intermittent rainstorms, the course had more in common with an Ardennes Classic than a Dauphine Libere time trial.
Ardennes Classics are definitely an in-house speciality of Valverde?s. Clad in the leader?s yellow-and-blue jersey, the double Liege winner said afterwards that – for once – on Wednesday he had felt completely at home in a time trial as well.
?The first 20 kilometres were more like a hill-climb than anything else.? the Caisse D?Epargne pro pointed out afterward. ?I?ve always been good at those.?
?Then there was a really technical descent, that suited me too. On top of that, going through the checkpoints in first place early on was a real boost to my morale. I could dig so deep because I knew I was up for a result.
Winning time trials is something that I definitely don?t do very often – and coming so close to the Tour, I?m very pleased, if a bit surprised.?
?I?ve been improving steadily though at time trials, though, and today is another step in that direction.?
Third in the opening prologue, Valverde was the only rider to go under 45 minutes for the rolling course set deep in the hills round grimy St. Etienne.
Just two other riders, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto),at 19 and 20 seconds respectively, came anywhere close to Valverde, with fourth-place Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) a minute back. Belgian Maxime Monfort (Cofidis), a promising young stage race specialist already being compared to Eddy Merckx (!) back home in Belgium, took fifth.
Overall, the Spaniard now has a 23 second cushion over Leipheimer and 37 seconds over Evans. He can expect challenges from both in the four mountainous stages to come, but Valverde?s strong point when stage racing has always been his climbing. Now it seems, the versatile Spaniard has another card in his pack – middle distance time trials.
?This win is more important in terms of morale than it is in terms of Alejandro?s progress at time trialling.? Caisse D?Epargne sports director Eusebio Unzue insisted.
?It was a course which favoured him a great deal, and where bike handling skills were more important than churning a big gear. If you look at the splits, he wasn?t so good at the end, where the course wasn?t so technical.?
?As for the overall, we?ll try and defend it – but we?ll need to find an ally or two to do that.?
DAUPHINE LIBERE STAGE THREE: RESULTS
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 31km in 44-59
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 19sec
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 20sec
4. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1min 00 sec
5. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 1min 01sec
6. Stef Clement (Hol) Bouygues at 1min 06sec
7. Yury Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues at 1min 35sec
8. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Milram at 1min 47sec
9. Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Saunier Duval-Scott at 2min 07sec
10. Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 2min 08sec
67. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 3min 54sec
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE THREE
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 10hr 10min 19sec
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 23sec
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 37sec
4. Maxine Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 1min 17sec
5. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1min 20sec
6. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Milram at 2min 08sec
7. Yuri Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues at 2min 10sec
8. Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 2min 28sec
9. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2min 30sec
10. Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 2min 39sec
63. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 4min 41sec
Today’s time trial saw Thor Hushovd lose his lead in the race
Having won the opening prologue, Levi Leipheimer was favourite for the stage win but had no answer to Valverde’s power
Alejandro Valverde won today’s time trial and took the race lead
Valverde celebrates taking the day’s win, and the race lead
All photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage two: Hincapie outclasses bunch in Dauphine
Stage one: Valverde takes classy win
Prologue: Leipheimer soars to Dauphine prologue win