Exactly seven months after a Tour de France crash that nearly ended his career, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won his first race of 2018, stage 2 at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain.
He out-sprinted the Astana duo of Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang Thursday, who finished second and third, respectively.
“I am very happy to have won my first victory after my injury,” Valverde told Eurosport. “My training was going well, and I had good sensations at Mallorca. I knew that I could be here fighting for the win, and the sooner the better.”
The 153.9km stage from Bétera to Albuixech suited all three of the podium finishers, with six categorized climbs. Valverde and Fuglsang escaped with about 30km to go, over the top of the final climb, El Garbi.
Soon, Sanchez joined the duo and played a key role in fending off the peloton, which could not chase down the lead trio.
In November, the Valverde told VeloNews, “Right after crashing, and I looked at my knee, I thought, ‘forget about racing again.’”
The 37-year-old required surgery and two months off the bike to recover from his terrible crash in the Tour’s rainy first stage on July 1, 2017.
However, the Spaniard put in 6,000km of training through the autumn to prepare for the new season and looked to be coming into the new season with good form.
Valverde was second in Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana at the Mallorca Challenge one week prior. Now the 2009 Vuelta a España winner holds the overall lead at Valenciana.
Sanchez is second overall, four seconds behind, and Fuglsang is third, six seconds back.
Friday’s stage 3 could shake up the GC standings as it is a flat, 23km team time trial from Benitatxell to Calpe. The race will likely be decided Saturday with an uphill finish at Cocentaina after a hilly 181km of racing.
“It’s good to have an advantage because tomorrow there will be teams better than us,” Valverde added. “We’ll see if, with the time I got today and what we give up tomorrow, if it will be enough to fight for the overall Saturday.”
Top 10, stage 2
- 1. Alejandro Valverde, MOVISTAR TEAM, in 3:53:55
- 2. Luis León Sanchez, ASTANA PRO TEAM, s.t.
- 3. Jakob Fuglsang, ASTANA PRO TEAM, s.t.
- 4. Giovanni Visconti, BAHRAIN – MERIDA, in :19
- 5. Greg Van Avermaet, BMC RACING TEAM, s.t.
- 6. Merhawi Kudus, TEAM DIMENSION DATA, s.t.
- 7. Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia, ASTANA PRO TEAM, s.t.
- 8. Alexis Vuillermoz, AG2R LA MONDIALE, s.t.
- 9. Ben Hermans, ISRAEL CYCLING ACADEMY, s.t.
- 10. Adam Yates, MITCHELTON – SCOTT, s.t.
- 1. Alejandro Valverde, MOVISTAR TEAM, in 8:27:58
- 2. Luis León Sanchez, ASTANA PRO TEAM, at :04
- 3. Jakob Fuglsang, ASTANA PRO TEAM, at :06
- 4. Wout Poels, TEAM SKY, at :29
- 5. Diego Rosa, TEAM SKY, s.t.
- 6. Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia, ASTANA PRO TEAM, s.t.
- 7. Greg Van Avermaet, BMC RACING TEAM, s.t.
- 8. David De La Cruz Melgarejo, TEAM SKY, s.t.
- 9. Primoz Roglic, s.t.
- 10. Brent Bookwalter, BMC RACING TEAM, s.t.