by Denholm Barnetson
MADRID, Sept 20, 2009 (AFP) – Controversial Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde won the Tour of Spain on Sunday, capturing one of cycling’s three major tours for the first time just months after being embroiled in a doping scandal.
The 29-year-old Caisse d’Epargne rider virtually just had to stay in his saddle on Sunday to win the event after starting the day with a lead of 55 seconds over his countryman Samuel Sanchez, who finished the tour in second place.
Third overall was Australia’s two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans, who had been an outside favorite until Valverde took the golden jersey from him at the end of the 9th stage and who then lost a lot of time due to a puncture in the 13th stage.
Germany’s Andre Greipel won Sunday’s 21st and final stage in a sprint finish in Madrid ahead of Italy’s Daniele Bennati at the end of the 110-kilometre course from Rivas Vaciamadrid to the Spanish capital.
Valverde finished the stage in 26th place, 10 seconds behind Greipel and with the same time as Sanchez.
Valverde, who had been on the podium in this race twice previously, said his “goal is now achieved”.
“It’s a special feeling, now I know that I can win a big three-week tour, a harder one than the Tour of Spain,” he said. “Everyone had doubts, and I knew that I could achieve it because I had been close.”
The trophy will be some consolation this year for the Spaniard, who is
serving a two-year ban for doping in Italy which prevented him from taking part in the Tour de France this year as it briefly passed through the country.
The anti-doping tribunal of the Italian Olympic Committee took the action last May after it said blood samples taken from him during an Italian stage of the 2008 Tour de France matched DNA samples from suspect blood bags discovered in the 2006 Operation Puerto doping scandal.
Valverde has contested the allegations.
He said on Saturday that the Vuelta had not been his chief objective at the start of the season, but the decision in Italy changed his plans.
“I had to find another goal, in this case the Vuelta. I had to concentrate and leave all other problems behind,” he said.
The rider, who won the Tour of Catalonia in May, did not win a single stage in this year’s Tour of Spain.
But he remained strong throughout, helped by his team, and was able to respond to attacks by his rivals when needed, especially in the 14th and 19th stages.
“In the end the best man won,” said Sanchez. “It was 21 days and what
counted above all was consistency and Valverde is the one who made the least mistakes.”
A total of 59 riders quit the Tour of the 198 who started the event, which this year got under way in the Netherlands.
Caisse d’Epargne team manager Eusebio Unzue said he hoped Valverde’s win would silence his critics.
“It was something we needed because a certain black cloud has been created around Alejandro and a lot of false impressions: that he always has a very bad day, he has lapses in concentration, he can’t finish races well.
“I think in this Vuelta he showed his maturity and progress and got all
those monkeys off his back. He demonstrated he is perfectly capable of winning a three-week race.”
Photos by CorVos Pro.