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Despite being up against several Caja Rural riders, Valverde won the uphill sprint from a small group on the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon queen stage; the Spaniard also won the race overall, with Bilbao in second and Brandao in third

Photo: Movistar Team

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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DAVID ARROYO

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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VUELTA A CASTILLA Y LEON

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17.04.2016 @ 18:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lived up to his status as the overwhelming favourite at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon by claiming his second win in a row in the queen stage on the final day and winning the race overall. Despite being up against several Caja Rural riders, he controlled things perfectly before winning the uphill sprint, holding off Joni Brandao (Efapel) and David Arroyo (Caja Rural). Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) was second overall, with Brandao completing the podium.

 

With the Giro d’Italia being his big goal, Alejandro Valverde has had a different schedule in 2016. He has done very little racing and instead he has been training at altitude since Milan-Sanremo.

 

Last week he returned to competition at Klasika Primavera but it was this week’s Vuelta a Castilla y Leon that was his final big test for the Italian race and the final two Ardennes classics. In a field mostly made up of continental teams, he was the big favourite as he was looking for a confidence boost before his big objectives.

 

After yesterday’s great solo win, Valverde can now head to Belgium with great ambitions as he made it two in a row by also winning the queen stage. As the final climb proved to be too tough for his teammate Carlos Betancur, he also took the overall victory in a dominant display of force.

 

After two lumpy stages, everything was going to be decided in the queen stage which brought the riders over 151.4km from the big city of Salamanca to a mountaintop finish on Alto de Candelario. The first part of the stage was flat and led to the category 2 Alto de San Miguel de Valero (5.8km, 6.4%) which was followed by the category 3 climbs of Alto de Cristobal (5.2km, 3.1%) and Alto de Beni (2.8km, 5.7%). Then the riders did one lap of a lumpy circuit with the uncategorized Alto de Los Pollos before they descended to the bottom of the category 1 Alto de Candelario. It averaged 6.5% over 10.1km but was much steeper in the final part as the final 6.2km averaged 7.7%.

 

Dry conditions had returned to Spain when the 96 remaining riders headed to the start. They got it off to a fast opening phase with lots of attacks and it took time for anyone to get a significant advantage.

 

The first rider to do so was Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) who had opened a gap of 25 seconds at the 16km mark. Lahclan Norris (Drapac) joined him two kilometres later but the move wasn’t successful.

 

As tried repeatedly but after 25km of racing, no one had escaped. That changed when Nesto Garcia (Boyaca) made a move and he had opened a 25-second advantage at the 30km mark.

 

Garcia’s move was not successful either and instead it was Ignacio Sarabia (Inteja) who made the difference. After 48km of racing, he had a gap of 42 seconds and as the peloton finally took a breather, he had pushed it out to 2.08 just four kilometres later.

 

Movistar kept the gap at around 2.05 as they headed towards the first climb of the day. Here they upped the pace significantly and it had dropped to 1.05 at the 72km mark. Sarabia crested the summit as the first rider before Raul Alarcon (W52) beat Rafael Reis (W52) and Ricardo Mestre (W52) in the sprint for second to increase his lead in the mountains classification.

 

Sarabia lost too much ground on the climb and so it was all back together at the 92km mark. That opened the door for new attacks and it was Fernando Grijalba (Inteja) and Jesus Ezquerra (Sporting) who took off on the next climb, with Grijalba winning the KOM sprint ahead of Ezquerra and Nuno Almeida (Efapel). The duo opened a 12-second advantage over Gavin Mannion (Drapac), Benat Txoperena (Euskadi) and Arnau Sole (Burgos) and a gap of 1.40 to the peloton at the 96km mark.

 

The junction was made in the front and the quintet was 1.35 ahead of the peloton after 102km of racing. Grijalba led Ezquerra and Txoperena over the top of the third climb while the quintet worked well together to maintain their advantage.

 

Grijalba and Ezquerra were the strongest and they again dropped their companions, pushing their advantage out to 2.40 as they approached the final climb. Mannion and Sole refused to give up though and they made it back to the front.

 

The quartet hit the final 25km with an advantage of 1.40 and quickly left Sole behind. Instead, Mas joined from behind but as the peloton was now at full speed,t heir gap had been reduced to just 25 seconds with 15km to go.

 

The group did well to keep the gap at 20 seconds until they hit the climb. Here Mas surged clear and he still had a 20-second advantage with 7km to go. However, it was all in vain and he was quickly brought back.

 

With 4km to go, the front group had been whittled down to just 19 riders, with Valverde and Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural) still there. However, Carlos Betancur had been dropped, meaning that Valverde was already the virtual leader.

 

Barbero was the next to get dropped while Valverde still had Winner Anacona at his side. Caja Rural were well-reprented with Ricardo Vilela, David Arroyo Pello Bilbao and Jaime Roson.

 

Valverde never made his attack and waited for the sprint from a small group that was gradually whittled down. Caja Rural were unable to get rid of the big favourite and he finally unleashed his powerful acceleration to take the win, putting one second into Joni Brandao and three seconds into David Arroyo, with Bilbao and Roson making it three Caja Rural riders in the top 5.

 

As Betancur had been left behind, Valverde took the overall win with a 30-second advantage over Bilbao while Brandao moved into third at 1.06. Valverde also won the points and combination competitions while Alarcon was the best climber and Caja Rural the best team.

 

With the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon done and dusted, the attention in Spain turns to the three-day Vuelta a Asturias which started on April 30.

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