On a day perfectly suited to his abilities, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took his second win of this year’s Vuelta a España on stage eight.
The Spanish rider was well hidden in the technical final kilometre of Saturday's stage, coming off Peter Sagan’s wheel only in the final metres of the 195.1km day, leaving the world champion in second place.
It was third placed Danny van Poppel's Lotto-Jumbo team who led the bunch through the technical, uphill final kilometres and round the 180º roundabout with only 750m to go.
However, with 350m left for the rapidly thinning bunch, as the final right hand bend approached they were swamped, and it was Bahrain Merida’s Iván Garcia who opened up his sprint first.
Sagan bided his time, staying out of the wind until making his bid for the line with 100m to ride, but it was veteran Valverde (Movistar) who came over the top to take the plaudits.
Riding his third day in the leader’s red jersey, Rudy Molard, (Groupama-FDJ) finished on the same time as Valverde in 30th place, and retains lead by 37 seconds ahead of tomorrow’s mountain top finish.
How it happened
With the mercury nudging 40ºc, it was another sweltering day for the bunch and there was little fight for a place in the day's breakaway, which was established in the opening three kilometres of the stage between Linares and Almaden.
By the time Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Jorge Cubero (Burgos BH) and Hector Sáez (Euskadi-Murias), in his third break of the race’s eight stages, had ridden 35km they led the pack by 10 minutes.
Though Molard’s Groupama-FDJ team took early responsibility, it was only when the sprinter’s teams finally came to the front of the bunch with 70km behind them, that the rate of increase in the leader’s advantage slowed. However, as the trio crested the day’s only classified climb they were a huge 12 minutes ahead.
Once Sáez had taken maximum points at the top of the third category Alto de Españares, Quick-Step Floors, Cofidis, Bora Hansgrohe and Trek-Segafredo lifted the pace significantly, reducing the gap.
By the time Cubero won the intermediate sprint at Villanueva de Cordoba with 71km remaining - the break’s lead was below eight minutes, the peloton strung out under pressure of the high speed.
While his team were one of those riding at the front, with 53km remaining Peter Sagan suffered a mechanical issue and was forced to chase back onto the peloton with a deficit of around one minute, the effort possibly reducing his ability in the final sprint.
The leaders’ advantage continued to be steadily eroded, the bunch managing the gap with aplomb. However, as the peloton closed within 20 seconds Mahcado attacked alone as the road began to rise towards the finish.
His attempt was in vain though, and he was caught less than two kilometres later. Lotto Soudal's move off the front with four kilometres to go met a similar fate as teams began to probe their rivals before Lotto Jumbo took the initiative.
Sunday's Stage 9 seems the peloton tackle the 200.8km between Talavera de la Reina and La Covatilla. They day includes four classified climbs, finishing at the Alto de la Covatilla at the top of a 9.8km climb averaging 7.1 per cent and could bring changes in the general classification.
Vuelta a España stage 8, Linares to Almadén (195.1km)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar in 4-35-54
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora Hansgrohe
3. Danny van Popel (Ned) Lotto Jumbo
4. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain Merida
5. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing
6. Jesus Herrada (Esp) Cofidis
7. Simon Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton Scott
8. Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9. Iván García (Esp) Bahrain Merida
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Lotto Jumbo all at same time
General classification after Stage 8
1. Rudy Molard (Fra) Ggroupama FDJ in 31-20-34
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 37s
3. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 48s
4. Simon Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton Scott at 51s
5. Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 59s
6. Michal Kwiatowski (Pol) Team Sky at 1-06
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain Merida at 1-11
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 1-14
9. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Lotto Jumbo at 1-18
10. Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-step Floors at 1-23
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