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Alejandro Valverde answers his Tour critics with Clasica victory

Valverde quieted critics who said he blew a chance to finish on the Tour de France podium with a big win at the Clasica San Sebastian

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It’s been a long week for Alejandro Valverde.

Despite riding to a career-best fourth overall at the Tour de France last weekend in Paris, the Movistar rider has been fending off critics left and right. Many were quick to say Valverde blew a chance of a lifetime to finish on the final Tour podium; despite his dogged efforts, he could only muster fourth.

On Saturday, Valverde rode with a vengeance, attacking an elite group up and over the final climb to solo home for the victory at the Clásica San Sebastián, Spain’s most important one-day race.

“It’s not as if I had a thorn in my back, because I’ve shown myself all season long, but I had a bad taste in my mouth after finishing so close to the podium,” Valverde said after his second career Clásica win Saturday.

“Today, I just went as hard as I could, just like I do every time I race. San Sebastián is a race I’ve always liked, even more so with the new route. It’s my second win here, plus two other podiums. I already have 10 wins this season, and I’m atop the WorldTour standings. I can only be happy.”

Valverde’s smile was one of relief Saturday. All week long, he’s been badgered in the Spanish media about his close call at the Tour. After Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) crashed out, all Spanish eyes had been turned to Valverde.

Although he rolled out of the Alps poised second overall, the veteran Spaniard slipped off the podium in what’s likely his last shot at being outright captain of the powerful Movistar team. Nairo Quintana, who won the Giro d’Italia and who will return to racing next week with the Vuelta a Burgos before the Vuelta a España, will lead the team at next year’s Tour.

On Saturday, Movistar controlled the race to set up Valverde for an attack on a new finishing circuit around San Sebastián’s picturesque Playa de la Concha and the short but steep Igeldo climb.

Valverde pounced at the decisive moment, attacking and then dropping a group that included Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), and Mikel Nieve (Sky).

“The Igeldo climb was incredible. It really changes the race. You have to save something for the end,” said Valverde of the new climb inserted in the new finishing circuit around San Sebastián. “When I had a gap, I kept it under control, and when I saw I was alone, there was nothing else to do but go full gas to the end.”

Valverde, 34, dedicated the victory to his wife and family, who staunchly stood by their man throughout the post-Tour polemica.

Up next is the Vuelta, where he and Quintana will share leadership duties. That’s the plan, at least for now. Quintana will likely be motivated to win, especially after watching the Tour from home in Colombia.

“Now I am going to train lightly, rest a little, and start to think about the Vuelta,” Valverde said. “We’ll go with a strong team to the Vuelta, with the presence of Nairo, and we are confident the victory will be ours.”

The sooner Valverde can forget about the Tour, the better.