Valverde beats Sagan for win, reduces Molard’s Vuelta lead
ALMADEN, Spain (AP) — Alejandro Valverde beat Peter Sagan in an uphill sprint to claim his second win of this Spanish Vuelta on Saturday.
Valverde, who is second overall, closed to within 37 seconds of leader Rudy Molard thanks to the 10-second bonus he was awarded for claiming Stage 8.
Valverde has won 11 stages at his home race after also winning Stage 2. His 2009 Vuelta title is his only Grand Tour victory.
The 38-year-old Movistar rider surged past Sagan over the final short climb to finish the mostly flat 195-kilometer (121-mile) ride from Linares to Almaden in 4 1/2 hours.
“(I’m) older in years, yes, but not in my physical or mental fitness,” Valverde said. “My goal was not to lose time today, but I got on his wheel and was able to overtake him.”
Molard of FDJ kept the overall lead for a fourth consecutive day.
Tiago Machado, Jorge Cubero and Hector Saez got out on a breakaway and led by 12 minutes before being reeled in with six kilometers left.
The mostly uneventful “transition” stage through dry fields dotted with olive trees moved the race towards the mountains of the north in the final two weeks.
After easily holding his lead on the flats of Spain’s southern region, Molard should have more difficulty when the race faces its first serious mountain test on Sunday.
Among the title favorites, Simon Yates is fourth at :51 seconds back, Michal Kwiatkowski is sixth at 1:06 behind, and Nairo Quintana is eighth at 1:14 behind.
Stage nine is a 201-kilometer leg starting in Talavera that crests three categorized climbs before finishing atop the beyond-category La Covetilla summit.
“Tomorrow is a mountain, mountain stage,” Valverde said. “We will really see who has options of making the podium for this Vuelta.”