Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) claimed victory on the most demanding stage of the Route d’Occitanie after beating Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) to win on the fog-shrouded summit of Les Monts d’Olmes.
Only 30 riders were left in the front group after the passage over the climbs of the Port de Lers and Col du Chioula, and Valverde went on the offensive on the opening ramps of the final 15-kilometre haul to the finish.
Elissonde and Navarro went on the attack with Valverde, and the Sky rider made several attempts to shake the Spanish pair loose ahead of the summit. Valverde proved a redoubtable foe, however, and the veteran unfurled a crisp acceleration of his own near the summit to take the win and move into the overall lead.
Navarro placed second on the stage, two seconds down, while Elissonde placed third at seven seconds. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) took fourth at 1:03, just ahead of Sebastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ).
The Route d’Occitanie (formerly the Route du Sud) is Valverde’s first race since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April and his final tune-up ahead of next month’s Tour de France, where he will form a fearsome triumivirate for Movistar alongside Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa.
“It was a very demanding stage, and even if the weather conditions were really good for most of it, the final section was foggy and slightly rainy, and made for dangerous descents – but it really wasn’t that big of a problem,” Valverde said.
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