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The ageless wonder launched himself into the huge breakaway that formed early on the stage to Villanueva de Valdegovia before relentlessly attacking in the final hour of racing, jumping into the bunch of five that went on to contest the win. Though Valverde was caught off-guard by Michael Woods’ stage-wining attack, his aggressive performance was rewarded with a third on the stage and valuable 57-second gain on GC to leave him in ninth overall.
“The team was good today,” said Valverde’s teammate Enric Mas. “Valverde did today a ’10’ and couldn’t win just due to the circumstances of the race.”
Movistar now has three riders in the top 10, with Mas in fifth at 1:07 and Marc Soler 35 seconds down on him in seventh. Valverde is in ninth, 2:03 down on red jersey Richard Carapaz.
“We can play three cards in the GC, especially in the hard stages that will decide this Vuelta,” Mas continued. “It’s a huge benefit to us to have three of us within range of victory.”
After questions over Movistar’s use of a “trident” of leaders through recent grand tours, the Spanish squad got back to old habits at its home race as it fielded a bumper start sheet with its three captaincy options. However, at his rest day press conference, Movistar figurehead Valverde had suggested that he would be riding opportunistically rather than all-in for GC.
“If there is a clear option I will try, but I have two teammates who can win the Vuelta,” Valverde said Monday. “Either of them are candidates for the podium, or even both could be. I have 128 victories and achieving 129 would not change me much. I would like to, of course.”
Valverde reinforced that message after snatching third on the hilly Basque stage Tuesday.
“In the end, you have to be happy. We tried to win, but it wasn’t possible,” he said in the minutes before stepping to the podium for the day’s race. “We have Mas and Soler up in the GC, and we’ll keep working to see what we can do in the overall. There is no rest in this Vuelta.”
Wednesday will see the toughest mountaintop finish of the race so far, an 11-kilometer haul on the steep pitches of Alro del Moncalvillo. Movistar’s young guns will be ready to take up the challenge for their nation’s team.
“Soler and I are up there and we are going to try to win this Vuelta, it is the mentality with which we started the first day,” Mas said during the rest-day press conference.
After Tuesday’s performance, Mas and Soler may now also have to put up with irrepressible Valverde looking to get a bite of the action as well.