The Ruta del Sol slips through Tejay van Garderen's fingers as Alejandro Valverde sticks a long-range attack in the queen stage

Alejandro Valverde came into the fifth and final stage of the Ruta del Sol 22 seconds behind race leader Tejay van Garderen in the general classification, but that wasn’t enough to keep him down. The Movistar veteran launched a powerful attack just over seven kilometers from the line on the Peñas Blancas climb and won the stage a cool 48 seconds ahead of van Garderen (BMC Racing), enough to earn him a fourth career GC victory in the race.

Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo) took second on the 171km stage, which secured him third overall behind Valverde and van Garderen, while Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka rounded out the stage podium.

Top 10, stage 5

 

Top 10 overall

 

After winning Saturday’s time trial, van Garderen took a two-second lead over LottoNL-Jumbo’s Wilco Kelderman into stage 5, but it was the rider sitting in eighth overall at the start of the final stage that overhauled the American in the end. Valverde took advantage of a challenging final climb of nearly 15km at over 6% to deliver the knockout blow.

BMC and Sky drove a hard pace in the lead group to close down one attack after another on the early slopes of the climb, but nobody could reel in Valverde when he made his move with 7.2km to go. Despite the best efforts of BMC’s Brent Bookwalter, Valverde quickly opened a sizable gap on a select group of favorites, picking up half a minute of an advantage after 2km on the move.

With a little over 3km left to race, van Garderen made an attempt to bridge to the Spaniard, but he was unable to close down the gap. Majka and Mollema latched on to van Garderen’s wheel, and both riders left the American behind in the final kilometer, but nobody could catch the rider up the road.

Valverde claimed the stage win with 36 seconds to spare over Mollema. Majka crossed the line a further six seconds back, with van Garderen taking fourth on the stage.

Valverde’s overall Ruta victory is his fourth in five years. The 36-year-old also won the 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of the race.

“It’s the most exciting victory of the four I’ve got here,” he said. “It’s true that the previous three were also beautiful, but I was feeling like this one was going away from my hands day by day. I felt comfortable all stage today, despite the route being so demanding — which also was for me. The team was also doing well and wanted to try and move the race, and we profited from several other teams who wished to go on the attack to make a fast race so we could get a chance to leave van Garderen back into the last climb.

“We launched several of our guys into the early moves, with Rubén [Fernandez] into a more serious break and Dani [Moreno] in the finale, and when I saw the others struggling a bit halfway through the last Peñas Blancas, I knew that I had to go on a long attack if I wanted to win the GC.”

Van Garderen was understandably disappointed after the stage, but he was gracious in defeat.

“I picked my moment with about 3km to go and tried to put my head down and claw back enough time to keep the jersey, but it wasn’t to be,” he said. “Hats off to Valverde, that was a good move. He pulled it off with a lot of guts, it was impressive.”

In any case, van Garderen was able to draw a few positives out of his first stage race of the season, where he nabbed a stage victory and an overall podium result.

“The team showed that we were really strong,” he said. “We have a couple of lessons to take away from this but in the end I think we showed that we are all in good shape and we’re motivated and ready to take on the next challenge.”

Stage 5 results

 

General classification