The Spaniard breaks the curse of the rainbow jersey early
Alejandro Valverde says it was an “incredible and tactical victory” to repeat his success at the summit of Jebel Hafeet, this time in the rainbow jersey.
The Spaniard waited patiently on the climb before springing across to race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and sprinting for the line from 250 metres out.
Victory on stage three of the UAE Tour is Valverde’s first in the world champion’s jersey.
Speaking after the stage, the 38-year-old said: “It’s an incredible victory, even though it’s at the same place as last year.
“This time it’s something extra – I won in the world champion’s jersey.
“I’ve tried several times this year to win my first race with this jersey, so I’m glad it finally happened here today.
“It was a very tactical victory. I looked at the others as much as I could, but it was a hard victory because there really was a lot of wind.”
Valverde knew the 10km climb to the top of Jebel Hafeet well, having won the same mountain stage at the Abu Dhabi Tour in 2018.
That victory also sealed his overall success in the stage race, which has snow merged with the Dubai Tour to form new UAE Tour.
He added: “This climb is always dangerous with the headwind so I had to calculate my effort.
“I knew exactly where I wanted to start my effort, which is exactly where I did last year and I managed to do it.
“I felt good, so I knew I could wait to make my move. I didn’t want to rush when I saw Roglič and a few others attacking.
“I chose to climb at my pace but I knew I would come across. I just waited for the right moment to go for the win.”
Valverde said he came to a halt early on the climb as riders came together, and was forced to get back up to speed after putting his feet down.
But he was able to attack from 19 seconds down to bridge across to the front group, beating Roglič and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) in the dash for the line.
Valverde now sits second on general classification in the Middle East, 14 seconds behind Roglič.
He said: “I am certainly not surprised by Roglič. We know him from last year’s Tour de France and many other races.
“He’s a very solid rider, he goes well on all terrains, a very good time triallist.
“He’s my main rival for this race.
“We’ll see in the next days if I can also win the overall classification, but I don’t care that much.
“At least I have a stage, that’s what I wanted and I got the stage win in a very nice place up here.”
The race continues with a 205km stage to Hatta Dam on stage four, another climb familiar to Valverde from the Dubai Tour – he finished second to John Degenkolb there in 2015.
The GC battle will be decided on stage six, with a new climb Jebel Jais.
But Valverde will not be riding blind, as he has recced the mountain ahead of the race.
He said: “I also know the final climb of the last mountain stage. It’s very difficult because we have to ride very slow.
“There will be even more wind than today. It’s not steep but the tension in the finale before the climb will be higher because it’s a very slow climb.”