When Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) made that race winning attack on stage 15 of the Tour de France the only rider who even came close to staying with him on the final climb was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), initially holding his wheel and then keeping the gap down to 20 seconds atop the Col de Beixalis. The American looked like he could be within reach for someone with the descending skills of Valverde, however, the 41 year old decided he’d rather see a potential stage victory ride away, than risk a crash.
The Spanish veteran of the peloton looked to be making some early inroads as the descent toward the line started but ultimately came across 23 seconds behind the 26-year-old Kuss, comfortably holding at bay all the rest of the riders from the break of the day. The first of them, Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious), finished just a little short of a minute later.
“Once into that move, the goal was to win – but it’s always difficult to finish it off into a group like that,” Valverde said in a team statement. “Happy to finish second, but it would have had a better taste to take this one.”
If he had, it would have been Valverde’s first Tour de France stage victory since 2012, with the rider having four to his name after taking his first in 2005. It was also his third second place, and his 16th time on the stage podium from 14 starts.
“The attack by Kuss was too hard, and bridging back with those 15-20 [seconds] was so, so difficult,” Valverde said. “He knows Beixalis perfectly, both the climb and the descent, and did it perfectly.
“I’ve seen myself taking a couple turns into the downhill in not the safest way and thought to myself: ‘Man, it’s good to win, but it’s more important not to crash.’ And it’s not about what’s coming up in my schedule – it was just that I didn’t want to crash. At a descent like that one, you can really hurt yourself.”
The focus for the rider, who will soon line up for his fifth Olympic Games, now turns to the final week of the Tour de France where Movistar is supporting Enric Mas for the overall after losing Marc Soler to a crash on the opening stage. Mas finished in 20th place on stage 15, among the first group of race favourites, and shifted up to ninth on the GC.
“I’m happy to see Enric still doing well – there’s still all Pyrenees left in this race,” Valverde said. “I think we’re doing well as a team, after the bad luck we had with Soler crashing on day one.
“On a personal standpoint, we’ve got to be happy with my race so far,” said Valverde, though he did rue the missed opportunity on stage 8. “It was awful when I had to drop back from that breakaway, when we had almost four minutes, and not be able to contest it because I was suffering with the cold, rainy conditions – but that’s cycling. We’ll keep on fighting, the whole team, to make our fans happy!”