Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won stage two of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain on Thursday from a three-man break at the end of a testing day of climbing.
The Spaniard put himself into a late escape with Astana duo Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang, building up a lead over the chasing peloton. Valverde then out-sprinted compatriot Sanchez with Dane Fuglsang taking third.
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It is Valverde’s first victory since he crashed out of the opening stage of the Tour de France, fracturing his kneecap and ruling him out for the rest of the 2017 season. It is also Movistar’s first win of the year.
Valverde’s victory moves him into the overall race lead – with the possibility that he could become the first rider to take a third overall victory, having won the race back in 2004 and 2007.
“He is back!” 🙌
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) February 1, 2018
How the stage unfolded
The 153.9-kilometre stage from Bétera to Albuixech featured five categorised climbs.
A five-rider escape group formed up in the early stages of the day comprised of Garikoitz Bravo (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias), Jon Ander Insausti (Team Euskadi), Jesus Alberto Rubio (Inteja Domincan Cycling Team), Bryan Nauleau (Direct Energie) and Mathias Van Gompel (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
The quintet built up a lead of around seven minutes after 50 kilometres, but that was steadily chipped away by the bunch until they were caught on the lower slopes of the final classified climb of Garbi.
The pace had proved too much for overnight leader and stage one winner Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) who had to concede the lead after dropping off the pace.
Fuglsang was the first to attack from the bunch on the final climb and was swiftly followed by Valverde, who put in a big acceleration to catch him. The duo crested the climb and were then joined by Sanchez, promptly opening up more of a gap over the chase group.
The peloton fractured as Sky set a hard pace, leaving only around 20 riders.
By the bottom of the descent the trio in front were enjoying an advantage of 30 seconds with 13km to go. Sky were still doing most of the work in chasing at this point, and were only joined a little later on by representatives from other teams.
However, this combined effort was too little too late as the Valverde, Sanchez and Fuglsang trio managed to keep a tight hold of their advantage.
As they approached the line, there was little doubt that Valverde possessed the strongest sprint – and despite a lead-out by team-mate Fuglsang, Sanchez could not navigate around Valverde.
Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) led home the chasers for fourth place at 19 seconds.
Valverde’s winner’s time bonus means that he now sits four seconds ahead of Sanchez overall, with Fuglsang at six seconds in third. The next rider is Team Sky’s Wout Poels – overall winner in 2016 – at 29 seconds.
The UCI 2.1-ranked 2018 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana continues on Friday with stage three, a flat 23-kilometre team time trial from Benitatxell to Calpe. The race concludes on Sunday, February 4.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018, stage two: Bétera to Albuixech, 153.9km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 3-53-55
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at same time
4. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 19 secs
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing
6. Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana
8. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
9. Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Cycling Academy
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
General classification after stage two
Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 3-53-55
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 4 secs
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 6 secs
4. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 29 secs
5. Diego Rosa (Ita) Team Sky, at 29 secs
6. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 29 secs
7. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, at 29 secs
8. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 29 secs
9. Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing, at 29 secs
10. Amaro Antunes (Por) CCC Sprandi Polkowice, at 29 secs