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After his team had split the peloton in the crosswind, Valverde attacked halfway up the final climb to take a dominant solo win on stage 2 of Vuelta a Castilla y Leon; Barbero beat Rojas in the sprint for second and Betancur leads overall

Photo: Movistar Team

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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CARLOS ALBERTO BETANCUR

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CARLOS BARBERO

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JOSE JOAQUIN ROJAS GIL

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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VUELTA A CASTILLA Y LEON

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16.04.2016 @ 18:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a difficult start to the race in yesterday’s cold conditions, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lived up to his status as the overwhelming favourite by claiming a dominant solo win on stage 2 of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. After Movistar had split the field in the crosswind, he attacked halfway up the final climb and put 51 seconds into a small chase group that was led to the finish by Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural) and his teammate Jose Joaquin Rojas. Carlos Betancur (Movistar) was part of that group and defended his lead with a 3-second advantage over Valverde.

 

The 2016 season has been an unusual one for Alejandro Valverde who has not been his usual dominant self. Apart from a stage win and the overall victory, the Spaniard had failed to win a single race when he lined up for this week’s Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.

 

The lack of results are no surprise as Valverde is aiming for a big second half of the year and so has had a slow start to the season with much less racing. He planned to have a heavy focus on the classics but as he suddenly saw an opportunity to win the Giro, he changed his plans. He skipped the cobbled races and instead he trained at altitude to get ready for the Italian grand tour.

 

Vuelta a Castilla y Leon is his final test before the Ardennes classics and the Giro and in a field where Movistar is the only WorldTour team, he entered the race as the overwhelming favourite. However, he got the race off to a bad start in the opening stage where he suffered in the cold and failed to join key rival Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) who attacked in the finale.

 

Today Valverde proved that there is no reason to be concerned about his condition as he rode to a dominant win in the second stage of the race. After his team had split the race to pieces in the crosswinds, he made his move halfway up the category 2 climb that featured in the finale and summited just 3km from the finish. Immediately, he put significant time into all his rivals and he rode to an impressive solo win.

 

After yesterday’s relatively flat stage, the riders faced a tougher finale on stage 2 which brought them over 170.6km from the Portuguese city of Braganca to Fermoselle. The first part included the the category 3 climbs of the Alto de Rossas (3km, 5.3% Alto de Santulhao (8.7km, 3.2%) and Alto de Vimioso (5.9km, 4.7%) at the 17.1km, 54.5km and 67.3km marks respectively but then the terrain got significantly flatter. However, the stage had a nasty sting in its tail as the category 2 Alto de Fermoselle (4.5km, 6.3%) featured in the finale. The summit was located just 3.1km from the finish and after a very short descent, was is a gradually rising road that led to the line.

 

The rain disappeared and the sun came out just as the riders headed to the start line and all 102 riders were present as they took off. However, it was very windy and after 4km of racing, the conditions had already taken their toll, with a 20-rider group splitting off on the front. However, at the 6km mark, it was all back together.

 

There were lots of attacks and no one managed to get a significant advantage until Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) managed to open a 12-second gap at the 12km mark. However, he could only stay clear for another two kilometres and it was back together as they tackled the first climb where Raul Alarcon (W52) beat Dmitriy Strakhov (Lokosphinx) and Yelson Chaporro (Boyaca) in the KOM sprint.

 

While rain started to fall, the attacking continued and no one had managed to escape when they got to the 37km mark. Luckily, the dry conditions returned in what was a very fast start to the race.

 

The elastic finally snapped when Linus Gerdemann (Stölting), Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi), Pablo Torres (Burgos), Raul Alarcon, Rui Vinhas (W52) and Wilson Rodriguez (Boyaca) escaped and at the 55km mark, they had opened an advantage of 1.20. Alarcon continued his winning streak by coming out on top in the second KOM sprint where he beat Rodriguez and his teammate Vinhas.

 

Rodriguez was unable to keep up with his companions as the break had to ride hard just to maintain an advantage of around 1.15. At the 78km mark, Vinhas was also distanced, leaving just four riders in the lead after Alarcon had beaten Vinhas and Bizkarra in the third KOM sprint.

 

At the 82km mark, the gap was still only 1.10 but the peloton slowed down a bit, allowing it to go out to 2.15 after 101km of racing. However, the calmness quickly came to an end when the peloton hit a crosswind section where Movistar split the field into three groups, creating a main group of 24 riders that was just one minute behind at the 110km mark.

 

Alejandro Valverde, Winner Anacona, Carlos Betancur, Alex Dowsett, Antonio Pedrero, Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), David Arroyo, Pello Bilbao, Carlos Barbero, Luis Mas, Jaime Roson (Caja Rural), Sven Reutter (Stölting), Garikoitz Bravo, Aitor Gonzalez (Euskadi), Fernando Grijalba (Inteja), Cesar Fonte (Radio Popular), Rafael Reis (W52), Rinaldo Nocentini (Sporting) and Heiner Parra (Boyaca) were the only survivors when the early break was caught and only Gerdemann and Torres managed to hang on. At the 126km mark, they were 45 seconds ahead of the second group and 2.30 ahead of the third peloton and the first gap had gone out to 1.08 just four kilometres later.

 

There was no chance to come back for the second group which was 1.32 behind with 24km to go and it had gone out to 1.45 as they hit the final climb. The six Movistar riders were doing the damage as they went up the steep slopes.

 

The Spanish team whittled down the peloton which set Valverde up for his attack. The pre-race favourite made his move with 6km to go and as he entered the final 3km, he had already opened an advantage of 55 seconds.

 

Valverde lost a bit of ground in the flat finale but still reached the finish with a gap of 51 seconds to a small group that sprinted for second place. Carlos Barbero beat Jose Joaquin Rojas in the battle for the runner-up position, with Betancur and Anacona making it four Movistar rides in the top 10. Surprisingly, Pello Bilbao lost a few seconds in the finale, crossing the line with a time loss of 1.06.

 

The win allowed Valverde to erase most of the time he lost yesterday and he is now just 3 seconds behind his teammate Betancur. It will all be decided in the final stage which is also the queen stage.  After a lumpy day with three smaller climbs, the race will be decided on the Alto de la Plataforma, a 10.1km climb that averages 6.5% where the climbers are expected to battle it out.

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