By Andrew Hood
Alexandre Usov (Phonak) muscled to a sprint victory in Saturday’s fifth and final stage of the Tour of Valencia while Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme) sewed up the overall title.
Saturday’s 165km final stage hit a Category 2 climb early on, then rolled back into Valencia where the bunch came in for a mass gallop. Sunny skies returned after several days of rain, but heavy winds continue to wallop the peloton.
It was an impressive week for the 23-year-old Valverde, who won two stages and otherwise controlled the race, held in the same region that is home to the team’s new sponsor, Communidad Valenciana.
“I’m surprised I feel as strong as I do because I started training late and I had a lot of distraction over the winter,” said Valverde, who finished third behind Usov in the sprint finish into Valencia. “The team rode great this week and it’s nice to win here for the sponsor. I’m surprised but very happy.”
Referring to his team’s relegation to the second division because of its financial problems, Valverde added: “This allows us to forget the crisis in the team. People talk more now about what’s happening in offices than on the road.”
Time bonuses helped the young Spanish rider gain the race leader’s jersey from Toni Colom (Illes Balears), winner of the opening stage. Valverde won stages two and three and then held off attacks by Colom in Friday’s difficult climbing stage to sew up the overall.
Meanwhile, the news that his Kelme team has yet to be invited to race the 2004 Tour de France isn’t a major concern for Valverde.
“I want to race the Tour – but next year,” Valverde said. “My major goals come later in the season. The Olympic Games and the Vuelta are the races when I really want to be ready for.”
Spanish racing continues with Sunday’s Clasica Almeria (UCI 1.3) and with the Vuelta a Murcia starting Wednesday. The five-day race will be highlighted by the first meeting this season of Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, though neither are likely to be firing on all cylinders so early in the season.
Tour of Valencia (UCI 2.3), Stage 5, Valencia-Valencia
1. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Phonak, 165.5km in 3:35:01
2. Robert Bartko (G), Rabobank
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), CV-Kelme
4. Mark Scanlon (Irl), Ag2r
5. Samuel Dumoilin (F), Ag2r – all same time
37. Christian Vande Velde (USA), Liberty Seguros, s.t.
Final overall standings
1. Valverde, 20:04:45
2. Toni Colom (Sp), Illes Balears, at 0:09
3. David Blanco (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:22
4. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:25
5. Alex Zuelle (Swi), Phonak, +0:30
60. Vande Velde, at 15:13