• A signature sprint saw Alejandro Valverde win Stage 4 of the Vuelta a España. (AFP)Source: AFP
Alejandro Valverde has once again brought himself into world championship form, utilising his signature finishing speed on a short but sharp finishing climb to take out the fourth stage of the Vuelta a España.
By
Cycling Central

26 Aug 2015 - 7:32 AM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2015 - 3:03 PM

"I saw that neither (Pello) Bilbao, Samuel Sánchez and (Nicolas) Roche could open a serious gap, and I kept (Peter) Sagan under control. As the shadow on the ground showed him on my wheel, I didn't have to look back," explained Valverde of the situation in the finale at Vejer de la Frontera, the finish town of Stage 4.

"Nairo and I remain equal in terms of leadership. It's just that this finish was good for me." - Alejandro Valverde

"I knew he was strong, but into a finish like this, with 200m to go, when (Rafal) Majka jumped and closed the gap, it was clear to me that this victory was mine, or at least I had a really strong chance. More than the bonus seconds I took, I'm happy because of this win, which makes my team-mates very confident about our chances (for overall victory)."

It was Valverde's ninth stage win at the Vuelta and 12 years after his first in 2003, where he won two stages in his first Grand Tour, underlining not just his consistency at the highest level, but his longevity.

"Despite being a really demanding finish, we hadn't made a recon, and only this very morning we checked it out on the Internet to get the knowledge we needed about the climb. I had to rest a bit after the Tour; should I had stayed in 'racing mode' and checked the route I would have burned myself out. With technology around nowadays, you can check every detail and get more or less the same results."

Sagan, the winner of Stage 3, finished second, while Daniel Moreno (Team Katusha) was third. Orica-GreenEDGE's Colombian climber, Esteban Chaves, retained his five-second lead over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) in the overall classification, with Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) a further 10 seconds behind the Dutchman.

"The stage was tough and if I knew beforehand the finish would be so hard, I wouldn't have tried," said Sagan.

"I had spent a tremendous amount of energy at the front and in the final stretch I went behind the wheel of Valverde. The last climb, about 400 metres (long), was horrible. I honestly thought that was the end for me. However, when I saw all the climbers I passed, I said to myself I should make a last effort, squeeze out all my forces and push. I stayed behind Valverde but my legs weren't there, so I finished behind him."

"I started (the final four kilometres) alone, because the guys (on my team) used all their energy to help me before. But I just had to follow Purito (Rodriguez), Valverde and Peter Sagan to try to stay with them in the final," Chaves said.

"It was basically a saved day for us." - Neil Stephens, Orica-GreenEDGE sport director

"It was also going to be a stage where there was a lot of people who had their eye on the win," said Orica-GreenEDGE sport director Neil Stephens. "We were able to put in a moderate amount of work until the people who were going for the stage took over and did the brunt of the work in the second part of the race. We also worked to look after Esteban; we had him well placed in the final, and we tried to keep the stress as low as possible.

"It was basically a saved day for us. It was a day that was somewhat of a transition stage and now we look to continue protecting the jersey tomorrow."

As for the incessant question of team leadership at team Movistar, Valverde replied, "Leading the team alone? Not at all - nothing changes with this.

"Nairo and I remain equal in terms of leadership. It's just that this finish was good for me, but Nairo is doing well, as you can see inside the peloton every day. Caminito del Rey (Stage 2) was the first serious day of racing after four or five when our legs had done nothing like a real effort, and that made the stage really strange. It was very different today." 

Briton Chris Froome, who won a second Tour de France crown at the end of July and is bidding for a rare Tour-Vuelta double, finished safely with the main group and is ninth at 40 seconds.

Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) are the only riders to have won the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year.