Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde took control on the uphill finish to take yet another career WorldTour win in formidable fashion…
After four stages, four winners and three lead changes, the second WorldTour stage race of the season all came down to the closing climb on the final day.
After racing 189 kilometres from Al Ain, the final 10.8km of the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Tour rose nearly 800 metres in elevation to 1,025 metres above sea level with gradient averages hovering between eight to nine percent with a max of 11, the rider had their hardest work of the week ahead.
In the end, it was Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde who took the win atop Jebel Hafeet after out-climbing Colombian rival Miguel Ángel López (Astana), who was dueling for the win after the remnants of a seven-man lead group evaporated over the climb.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), who was in an original leading trio with his podium mates after a surge separated them from the field with six kilometres to go, finished third, but missed out on the final podium with Valverde and López, with Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) sandwiched between the pair in second.
Valverde clinches Stage 5
With the win, the 37-year-old Spaniard lifted the red leader’s jersey off penultimate stage time trial winner Rohan Dennis, who had a 24-second lead over Valverde at the start. Dennis crossed the line 1:43 adrift to fall to ninth overall on the final general classification.
Valverde was full of praise for his compatriot after winning the 24-carat gold-plated trophy ‘Golden Grit’ designed by Italian GDE Bertoni, who is well known for the production of the FIFA World Cup.
We knew that López would be the key player in today’s stage and also the man who could help me win the Abu Dhabi Tour overall. He’s very young and talented.
He added "as a team, we have started the season on the right foot. It’s important for the morale."
“Today’s stage was to my advantage and we wanted to make the best of it, I arrived on Friday, I climbed Jebel Hafeet once on Saturday, twice on Monday and Tuesday.
“Moreover, I did it to get accustomed to the climate and the time difference. I knew exactly where to attack. The great time trial I did yesterday helped me to cap it off today. I’m delighted to win a WorldTour race.”
A 10-man break animated the race for the majority of the windy, overcast day en route to the climb, and even extended the gap to 10 minutes. However the group finally splintered until American birthday boy Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac) was last to be reeled in on the ascent with 6km to go.
The win marks the 101st pro victory for Valverde, whose palmarés includes five La Flèche Wallonne wins, four Liège-Bastogne-Liège victories and nine stage wins and a general classification at the La Vuelta a España.
Stage 2 winner and former race leader Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) maintained the green points jersey, while 24-year-old López claimed white jersey for best young rider.