Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) claimed his first stage-race overall since coming back from his controversial racing ban to grab the top spot on the podium at the five-day Ruta del Sol in Spain.
Valverde crossed the line second behind stage winner Dani Moreno (Katusha) in Thursday’s final stage across the Andalucia region of southern Spain.
“The team was excellent again today and I’d have liked to reward them with the victory, but the main goal was the overall and we accomplished it,” said Valverde.
“I was looking at Taaramäe at the finish, because for me, he was the most dangerous guy, and when Dani Moreno attacked I didn’t even think of going past him. I did not make my move until well into the finish, at least to take 2nd, but Dani was phenomenal and deserved that victory,” he continued.
Valverde, who won Tuesday’s second stage in an uphill finish, will next head to Paris-Nice in early March.
The GC win is Valverde’s first since the 2010 Tour de Romandie, a result that was erased from his palmares when the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed down a two-year ban for links to the Operacion Puerto doping scandal from 2006. Valverde’s last “official” victory is the 2009 Vuelta a España.
“This win is for all the team and also for our sponsor Movistar, because they always relied on me and made a huge gamble on cycling with this team,” said Valverde.
Valverde also won a stage in his comeback race at the Tour Down Under, giving him three wins in the first month of the 2012 season.
“This season start is hard to bear for me,” he said. “I won in a WorldTour event in Australia and the field racing here was really strong. That thing about the top guns going training into early-season races is history now, and now there’s a big level in all races. You just have to look at today’s classification. There’s just over a week left before Paris-Nice and some of the rivals I’ll find there were here too, surely in good condition.”
Moreno, meanwhile, attacked the favorites with 500m to go to win the stage to give Katusha two consecutive wins following Oscar Freire’s victory Wednesday.
Moreno is looking to be in top form for the spring classics and then arrive at the Giro d’Italia in good shape to help Katusha captain Joaquim Rodriguez.
Valverde crossed the line second at two seconds adrift. GC rival Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) was 10th with the same time as Valverde, and secured second at three seconds back. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) rounded out the podium with third at eight seconds back.