With the Pyrenees in sight, so snowy, so luminous in the spring sun, Marc Soler, the hope, gets his nostrils clogged, he cleans them with a strong push of air and a snort, and falls off the peloton. It is the signal that Alejandro Valverde was waiting for to come to the rescue of his team and that of Soler, Movistar, in the Volta. There are 10 kilometers to go to the Vallter 2000 ski resort, an irregular ascent (11 kilometers at 7.6%), which is not impressive from the start but becomes hard at the beginning of the season. Valverde is launched and looks like the youthful Bala, with pedaling and cheerful and light gestures. He is 40 years old, almost 41. He is still the leader of his team.
At his own pace, after his pedaling, the queen stage is structured. Each one fulfills the assigned role. The Ineos begin to launch attacks to, first, isolate and then take down the leader, Joao Almeida, and Richard Carapaz sacrifices himself on the task. De Almeida, a 22-year-old with a diesel engine on ascents, who always rushes at his steady pace, without sudden changes, without dynamite, shoots, as in the Giro, his partner Fausto Masnada, who runs out. Valverde and Carapaz are accompanied in the attacks and changes of rhythm by some like Nairo, who, greasy, wants to at least let himself be seen a bit on his ground before lifting his foot. And for a moment you can see what Movistar was two years ago, the Ecuadorian, the Murcian and the Colombian, each in a team now. And then there is Kuss, the North American Jumbo climber, so effective on the mechanical banana around Roglic on the Tour. And six kilometers from the top, when only Valverde and Kuss resist, Adam Yates jumps like a spring, with so much rebound, that he seems to have come from another, atomic planet.
It is the definitive attack of the Ineos. The one that makes Almeida bend the knee, already alone, already overwhelmed by all those who were waiting for the moment at his wheel. It is the final attack festival in which Chaves, Carthy, the twin Simon and even Geraint Thomas, Yates’ teammate, the strongest, the freshest, the one who finally overcomes the resistance after just over two kilometers. de Valverde tenacious and leaves alone for the stage victory (and repeats the one achieved in the same place two years ago) and, with a 50s advantage, for the jersey green and white as a leader, who snatches the Portuguese.
La Volta is a festival of the Ineos, the strongest team, which has won the time trial and the first day of the mountain, a showcase of Valverde’s ability to still assume responsibility for the flame of Spanish cycling and not let go despite the fact that the spirit demands it from him sometimes – “in the final part I was feeling good and I wanted to try it to try, when the last great acceleration of the great favorites arrived, try to be in front and hold on there”, says the Murcian, who he finished third on the stage, 19s behind Yates, and is sixth, and first Spanish, overall, at 1m 6s.
“In Port Ainé, Thursday will be another very tough day, but I hope, hopefully, I can be the same. I don’t know if a better or the same result will be possible, but seeing the sensations, I think that at least we can be there ”—and a devastating example of the uncertain future of national cycling, whose best young people, the zoomers Juan Ayuso (from 2002), Carlos Rodríguez (from 2001), Javier Romo (from 1999), mature in foreign teams and show their excellence these days in Emilia Romagna (Italy), crossing the metaphorical Rubicon and actually in the dispute of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali.