Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) said he would attack to win the overall at the Volta a Catalunya, and he lived up to his word, putting pressure on Team Sky down to the wire.
Valverde started the final 126km circuit course up and over the Montjuic climb in downtown Barcelona needing a miracle against overnight leader Richie Porte (Sky). Starting 16 seconds adrift, even if he won the final stage — and he did — he still needed to gap the pack. Valverde opened up a long attack, but when he saw it wasn’t going to work, he sat up, regrouped, and then launched his sprint. He took 12 seconds in bonuses, and won for the third time this week, but felt short of the overall to settle into second place overall, four seconds behind winner Porte.
“I cannot complain. Three stage wins and second overall,” Valverde told journalists at the finish line. “I wanted to try to win the overall, even if we knew it was going to be difficult. We tried, but there was a lot of headwind.”
Valverde was superb throughout the weeklong Catalunya race, but a puncture at a key moment in stage 3 saw him lose time to the favorites. He battled back to win three stages, and the time bonuses that came with them, to crawl back into contention.
But contention was as far as he would get, with a resurgent Porte in charge and looking ahead to the Giro d’Italia.
“It’s unbelievable, to be honest,” said Porte. “It’s capped off a pretty awesome start to the season — starting from Down Under to now. I really couldn’t have imagined it would go this well after the year I had last year.
“We’ve got a good little run-up to the Giro so we can hopefully hit that in top form. I’m quite confident now that I can go there and fight for the podium.”
Under sunny skies in Barcelona on Sunday, Porte rode safely tucked inside the main pack to secure his second major victory inside a month. Just weeks after winning Paris-Nice for a second time, Porte came to Catalunya to help captain and teammate Chris Froome. The South African soon discovered he didn’t have the legs to challenge the likes of Valverde, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step), which opened the door for Porte.
The leaders patiently chipped away at an early breakaway that gained nearly three minutes. Movistar kept Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC Sprandi Polkowici), David Arroyo (Caja Rural) and Walter Pedraza (Colombia) as they looked to set up Valverde for a push at the overall title.
The 34-year-old then made his move on the last of eight laps up the Alt de Montjuic with 5km to go, but quickly abandoned any hopes of making a solo run to the line as Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and Porte followed him.
Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) attacked 2km later, but he too was caught in the final few meters as Valverde had just enough power to get to the line first in a congested sprint finish.
Porte finished second to Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) at La Molina in stage 4, and claimed the lead for good when he was fourth behind Valverde the following day into Valls.
The victory confirms Porte’s improved condition coming into 2015, and bolsters his candidacy for the Giro d’Italia, where he will square off against Contador and Urán in May.