Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) took his 12th stage win at the Vuelta today when he won on the extremely steep finish to Alto Mas de la Costa. The World Road Race champion held on in a very select group after several attacks from his teammate Nairo Quintana and powered to victory in the last 150 metres. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) finished 2nd, 6” ahead of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team). The Colombian ‘Superman’ will wear La Roja again tomorrow on stage 8. Roglic brings the gap down to 6” on GC while Valverde moves to 3rd, ahead of Quintana.
A strong group eventually broke clear after 60 kilometres of hard racing. Quentin Jauregui (AG2R La Mondiale), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Sebastian Henao (Team Ineos), Michael Storer (Team Sunweb), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates) and Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis) were joined 23km further on by Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) and Cyril Barthe (Euskadi-Murias) as the peloton trailed by 3’44”.
Sergio Henao led the breakaway over the first three climbs of the day to take 11 KOM points and the gap reached a maximum of 4’56” with 65km to go. Movistar decided to up the tempo and the gap came down to 2 minutes at the bottom of the penultimate climb. Philippe Gilbert and Sergio Henao accelerated and Sebastian Henao and Gianluca Brambilla join them and Sergio Henao took 5 more points at the summit. Dylan Teuns was dropped from the bunch with 27km to go.
Philippe Gilbert attacked again with 12.5km to go and only Sergio Henao was able follow him. Astana Pro Team upped the tempo behind with the gap coming down to 55”. They only trailed by 14” at the bottom of the Alto Mas de la Costa and the attackers were quickly caught with Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss upping the tempo.
Quintana accelerated with 3.2km to go and only Valverde, Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Miguel Angel Lopez followed him. Quintana attacked again with 2.2km and 1.2km to go but the four riders remained together until Valverde powered to victory in the final 150m.
Alejandro Valverde: “I’m so, so happy. This season has already been good to me, always up there within the best, but taking a stage like this one in La Vuelta, with such a strong competition – it really makes me happy. I want to thank all of my team-mates for the huge gamble they made on us for the win, and Nairo in particular, because he rode brilliantly over the last climb. He tried to distance Roglic and López with his attacks, but seeing they were able to match him, he set a steady pace so I could go for the victory later on. I was confident, I knew I was doing well, and the worst result I could have got was fourth (laughs). I just tried to keep the moves under control, and I knew I was the fastest of the three, so I remained calm until the end. It’s still a long way to go in this Vuelta, but for the time being, it seems like we two, Nairo and myself, are within the top four contenders for the GC win at this specific point.
“Aiming to win this? Of course it would be incredible to take the victory, 10 years after my first one, but I must remain realistic. We’ve got two stage wins at the moment, one by Nairo and one by myself, we’re up there in the GC – we can’t really ask for more at this point. What there isn’t is a a single problem between us. Nairo said he wants me to be the team leader, but I think he must not rule himself out of contention at all. He’s doing really well, and he’s talented enough to aim for this victory. At Javalambre on Wednesday, there was some controversy from Colombia about me pulling Roglic, but the thing is, if I didn’t have López riding away from us, I wouldn’t have ridden that way. I couldn’t lose time against him, since he’s so dangerous. Roglic has proven to be really strong, too, and he should be the best of us four at the ITT, but anything can happen.”