Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took victory on his first race appearance since being forced to take time out with injury, riding with ease to the win at the opening stage of the Route d’Occitanie.
The world champion took the overall at the four-stage French race last year, and beat Eddie Dunbar (Team Ineos) to the line on stage one of the 2019 edition.
Valverde, who has been out with injury since abandoning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, looked a level above the rest as he marked all the moves from the leading group on the final climb of the first stage.
The 175.5km opening day of the race in the French Pyrenees featured two ascents of the Côte de Aubignac with the finish line at the top.
Thanks to the work of his Movistar squad, Valverde was left perfectly positioned on the 4km final climb in a reduced front group of around eight riders, which included Iván Sosa and Eddie Dunbar (Team Ineos), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) and Élie Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic) among others.
Ag2r La Mondiale did a lot of work during the stage, but their last man Tony Gallopin had to fight back to make it in to the front group and wasn’t able to contest the final sprint.
After a number of attacks up the climb, all of which Valverde marked, it was Urán who went with just under 500m to go, followed by Valverde and Dunbar.
The Spaniard was able to come around Urán in the final 200m with Irishman Dunbar sticking to his wheel. There was nothing he could do to beat Valverde though, who’s sprint was strong enough to seal a victory on his return to racing.
It’s the 39-year-old’s 124th career victory, and he now leads the race overall. He’s using the race as his pre-Tour de France warm-up, where he’ll ride alongside Nairo Quintana and Mike Landa to try and deliver Movistar a long awaited overall victory at the Tour.
La Route d’Occitanie 2019, stage one: Gignac – Vallée de l’Hérault to Saint-Geniez-d’Olt-et-d’Aubrac (175.5km)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-44-00
2. Eddie Dunbar (Irl) Team Ineos, at same time
3. Élie Gesbert (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic, at 2s
4. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
6. Iván Sosa (Col) Team Ineos, all at same time
7. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Total Direct Energie, at 8s
8. Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 10s
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Team Ineos, at 35s
10. Nans Peters (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at same time
General classification after stage one
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar