Spaniard Alejandro Valverde had a less troubled ride than expected on the last day of the Dauphine - taking his first ever victory in a week-long stage race: now, he says, it?s time for the Tour.
Finally there were no fireworks on the Dauphine?s last stage, a 127 kilometre trek through the Chartreuse mountains, and the Caisse D?Epargne rider ended the day as he?d started: in the lead.
A little disappointing, perhaps, but Valverde had already established himself as the most consistent rider in the time trials and the mountains. It was always going to be very difficult to dislodge the Spaniard.
Overall runner-up Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) tested the water by sending Yaroslav Popovych, his second-in-command up the road on the first big climb of the day, the Granier.
But Valverde?s team, looking far stronger than they had on stage six (it should be said there were 100 less kilometres of racing) pulled Popovych back in. And after that, there were no more serious attacks on Valverde.
The big beneficiary of this day-long truce was stage winner Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole). Part of the day long early break, Fofonov outgunned Belgian Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step) and stage five winner Yuri Trofimov (Bouygues) after a break-neck descent into Grenoble. It was Fofonov?s first victory since a stage of Catalonia way back in 2002.
But the big news is that Valverde is definitely heading in the right direction for the Tour. For those who argue he?s too strong, too soon, it should be pointed out that Valverde had problems on the Toussuire on stage six - and that maybe it?s Evans, who briefly dropped the Spaniard there, who?s too far ahead of his game.
At the same time, Valverde?s time trialling seems to have moved up another hefty notch, again, just in time for the Tour.
?This win is my biggest ever in a major week-long stage race.? Valverde pointed out. ?And as such, it?s great for my morale so close to July.?
At the same time, Valverde now seems to have ousted Cadel Evans as stage racing?s Mr. Consistency, doing well in everything he turns his hand (or legs) to.
?I did well in the prologue [taking third], won the stage the next day [in a sprint], won the time trime trial [on stage three] and then got the lead.?
?After that I just tried to stay in control on the mountains - and it worked."
He was even happy to answer questions about Operacion Puerto and the Italian judge who said six months ago he wanted to question him. Was he worried that he might get interrogated at some point?
?I?m not scared of that.? he commented. ?I?m just staying calm for now.?
Britain?s Charly Wegelius was in the break for a second successive day. The Liquigas pro made it into a counter-attack on the Granier, but it failed to bridge across. He still took eighth on the stage before finally getting a well-earned break from racing.
DAUPHINE LIBERE STAGE SEVEN: RESULTS
1 Dimitry Fofonov (Kaz) Credit Agricole 127km in 3hrs 17mins 20sec
2 Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step
3 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues all same time
4 Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2R at 11sec
5 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Quick Step
6 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre all same time
7 Sandy Casar (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 1min 31sec
8 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas same time
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Credit Agricole at 1min 34sec
10 Lars Bak (Den) CSC at 2min 21sec
FINAL OVERALL CLASSIFICATION
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D?Epargne 27hr 34min 39sec
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 39sec
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1min 24sec
4 Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 2min 47sec
5 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3min 19sec
6 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Cofidis at 4min 01sec
7 Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4min 25sec
8 Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre at 4min 29sec
9 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 4min 45sec
10 Matteo Carrara (ita) Quick Step at 5min 13sec
52 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 37min 00sec
Alejandro Valverde and Levi Leipheimer before stage seven
Alejandro Valverde (overall winner), Levi Leipheimer (points jersey winner), Pierre Rolland (mountains winner)
Jurgen Van De Walle and Dimitry Fofonov battle it out on stage seven
Dimitry Fofonov gets the edge over Yuri Trofimov and Jurgen Van De Walle to win the stage
Final podium (l-r): Levi Leipheimer (3rd), Alejandro Valverde (winner), Cadel Evans (2nd)
Photos by Luc Claessen
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage seven: Valverde triumphs in Dauphine Libere
Stage six: Valverde hangs onto lead in Dauphin's toughest stage
Stage five: Trofimov triumphs in Dauphine, but Valverde still leads
Stage four: Daring descent nets Dessel the win
Stage three: Valverde takes control of Dauphine
Stage two: Hincapie outclasses bunch in Dauphine
Stage one: Valverde takes classy win
Prologue: Leipheimer soars to Dauphine prologue win
NEWS & FEATURES
Valverde faces final challenge for Dauphine victory
Analysis: Who is going to win the Dauphine? [June 13]
Analysis: Is Valverde suddenly brilliant against the clock
Evans says Tour within his power
War weary Wegelius battles on in Dauphine
Hushovd: Boonen affair "not good for cycling"
Flat start for Dauphine Libere
Dauphine Libere 2008 preview
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