Lying eighth coming into the stage, Valverde was content to launch counter-attacks rather than making moves of his own on the 10.8km summit finish to Jebel Hafeet, first chasing an early move from Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), before accelerating across to a smart and ultimately decisive move from Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) with four kilometres remaining.
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These two attacks saw the red jersey of Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) dropped halfway up the climb, as Lopez and Valverde worked well together to hold off the chase of a group led by Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) behind.
By the finish, the leading duo had around 15 seconds on the chasers, and as they approached the final bend Valverde used all his experience to sweep through the open door left by Lopez on the inside to cross the line for this third stage win of the year, enough to also give him the overall victory ahead of Kelderman and Lopez.
How it happened
After Saturday’s time trial started to shape the general classification of the Abu Dhabi Tour, Sunday’s summit finish to Jebel Hafeet would decide it once and for all, with the tough 10.8km coming at the end of another long, flat day through the desert.
While previous stages had seen the break only allowed a couple of minutes advantage, the final day saw a a nine rider break open up a maximum advantage of nearly 10 minutes.
In the move were André Greipel and Frederick Frison (Lotto-Soudal), Rudy Barbier (Ag2r La Mondiale), Matthias Brändle (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Bresciani (Bardiani CSF), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac), Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) Joonas Henttala (Novo Nordisk), and Nikolay Trusov (Gazprom Rusvelo).
That group worked well together throughout the stage, and still enjoyed a lead of more than six minutes with 30km remaining, even as the peloton was stretched out into a long, thin line as BMC Racing and UAE Team Emirates set a fast pace for Rohan Dennis, Fabio Aru, and defending champion Rui Costa.
However as the final climb approached the gap to the leaders began to come down quickly, and by the time the breakaway riders hit the base of Jebel Hafeet their advantage was little more than two minutes.
Astana took up the chase at the front of the peloton as the road started to ramp upwards, with Greipel surprisingly the last rider to be able to stay with Craddock on the climb, before the American, who has formerly finished on the podium at the Tour of California and top 10s in Tour of the Basque Country and Critérium International, went solo.
But by that stage, with seven kilometres remaining, Craddock’s lead was down to just 40 seconds, as Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) launched the first meaningful attack from the pack.
However Formolo’s effort did little but catch Craddock and tempt out Alejandro Valverde, who launched his bid for victory with a stinging acceleration that saw him bridge up to Formolo before being joined by Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and Miguel Angel Lopez as race leader Dennis and second-placed Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky) were both dropped.
Lopez launched the next attack to drop Formolo as Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) worked for team-mate Wilco Kelderman in a small chasing group with Rafal Majka (Bora-Hasgrohe), Formolo, and Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo) which was able to regain contact
With four kilometres remaining Lopez attacked once again, this time going solo with a more substantial lead as Formolo led the chasers, before Valverde launched a counter to get across to the young Colombian.
That duo had a 20-second lead going under the flamme rouge, and as Lopez began to wind up the sprint, Valverde used all his experience to come up the inside on the final corner to take the victory.
Abu Dhabi Tour, stage five: Qadr Al Muwaiji to Jebel Hafeet, 199km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-38-47
2. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at same time
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 15 secs
4. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, all at same time
6. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 37 secs
7. Niklas Eg (Den) Trek-Segafredo, at 47 secs
8. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 55 secs
9. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates
10. Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, all at same time
Final general classification
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 16-00-01
2. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 17 secs
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana, at 29 secs
4. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 31 secs
5. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 45 secs
6. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-13
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-18
8. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-28
9. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing, at 1-29
10. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time