Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing for Valverde

Procycling - - THE BIG INTERVIEW -

Ale­jan­dro Valverde must have en­joyed the view from the top of Inns­bruck’s in­fa­mous ‘Höll’ climb. With just un­der 10 kilo­me­tres to go in the world cham­pi­onships men’s road race, he was in the com­pany of two oth­ers: noted non-sprinter Ro­main Bardet and noted non-sprinter Michael Woods. Be­hind the lead­ing trio were Gianni Moscon and Tom Du­moulin, who had been on dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ries on the 28 per cent slopes of the climb – Moscon’s tim­ing had been good and he’d ini­tially matched his three ri­vals be­fore tail­ing off in the fi­nal third. Du­moulin had been the op­po­site – he’d missed the French surge that put Bardet at the front, but was match­ing their speed, only 15 sec­onds be­hind. Ahead: a de­scent and a sprint that was a for­mal­ity for the Spa­niard. Du­moulin caught Valverde, Bardet and Woods in Inns­bruck, but the ef­fort that the Dutch­man should have put to­wards win­ning the race had al­ready been spent putting him­self in a po­si­tion to do so. (Also ahead of the Spa­niard: a re­heat­ing of the 12-year-old con­tro­versy that has fol­lowed him with the same dogged­ness with which he fol­lowed Bardet and Woods up Höll. The is­sue of Valverde’s pre­vi­ous dop­ing was with him go­ing into the Worlds, stayed with him as he crossed the line and will con­tinue through his reign in the rain­bow jer­sey and be­yond his re­tire­ment.)

Valverde’s tri­umph in the World Cham­pi­onships road race was built on a clever team per­for­mance on one of the hard­est routes for many years. It had been a worry that the pelo­ton would sim­ply leave things to the Höll climb, but a phase of at­tack­ing rac­ing on the main cir­cuit made for a

dy­namic race. Spain had a strong climb­ing team, but also used their re­sources far more clev­erly than some of their ri­val teams.

That a break of 11 rid­ers gained nearly 20 min­utes was al­most ir­rel­e­vant to the ac­tion. The im­por­tant phase of the race came be­tween 65 kilo­me­tres to go and Höll. What was no­tice­able was that while the break was be­ing con­trolled, Spain con­trib­uted a few rid­ers to the ef­fort at the front of the bunch, but never in huge num­bers. How­ever, when at­tacks started go­ing at the 65-kilo­me­tre mark, both they and the Ital­ians al­ways had at least one man in the break. The other vis­i­ble team was Great Bri­tain, who did a lot of chas­ing, but didn’t have the strength in num­bers to com­mit any­body to these mid-race breaks and there­fore spent a lot of en­ergy chas­ing Spain and Italy. Dario Cataldo was the first to go, tak­ing Jesús Her­rada with him – Italy and Spain were both us­ing their depth to save en­ergy.

The at­tack didn’t last, and the next big move to go was by Greg Van Aver­maet, 10 kilo­me­tres later. The Bel­gian took Italy’s Dami­ano Caruso and Spain’s Omar Fraile with him. It wasn’t a race-win­ning move, though they did man­age to stretch their ad­van­tage to 30 sec­onds. How­ever, once again Italy and Spain had ex­cused them­selves from the ef­fort of chas­ing.

On the penul­ti­mate lap, Bram­billa for Italy and De La Cruz for Spain at­tacked, along with a hand­ful of rid­ers. How­ever, af­ter this move was shut down go­ing into the fi­nal lap, Italy made a mis­take which Spain took full ad­van­tage of. Into the fi­nal lap, the pelo­ton com­prised 64 rid­ers, and only three teams had seven rid­ers left: Spain, Italy and the Nether­lands. (France and Bel­gium had five apiece, while no­body else had more than three). Italy lined up their rid­ers at the front of the pelo­ton and im­posed a fast pace, into and up the main cir­cuit’s climb. This shed an­other 20 rid­ers, but it saved the other strong teams a lot of work, and with Italy’s best hope be­ing Moscon, a good rider but not an es­tab­lished favourite, it was a ques­tion­able tac­tic.

Den­mark’s Michael Valgren gained 30 sec­onds over the top of the climb, but a six-rider coun­ter­at­tack con­tain­ing Moscon was shut down, mean­ing that the race would, af­ter all, come down to who could get over Höll fastest. With Italy spent, it was France whose ef­forts de­cided the ul­ti­mate out­come. Thibaut Pinot, pulled Bardet, Ju­lian Alaphilippe, Moscon, Woods and Valverde clear. Pinot and Alaphilippe wilted, leav­ing just four at the front.

In the end, Spain had done a lit­tle work at the right times, while teams like Italy and Great Bri­tain did a lot of work at the wrong times. On the Hôll climb, they were damned to their fate, while Valverde as­cended to heaven.

The is­sue of Valverde’s pre­vi­ous dop­ing was with him go­ing into the Worlds, stayed with him as he crossed the line and will con­tinue through his reign in the rain­bow jer­sey

Valverde en­joys the irst cou­ple of sec­onds of be­ing the world cham­pion

Tom Du­moulin missed the move but rode coura­geously to join the win­ning break

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