Vuelta 3: Valverde wins in soaking Soria

Alejandro Valverde wins a rain-swept third stage of the Vuelta in Soria, where US Postal's Benoit Jo

Alejandro Valverde wins a rain-swept third stage of the Vuelta in Soria, where US Postal’s Benoit Jo

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE It has not taken long for Alejandro Valverde to make a significant mark on the Tour of Spain, his first stage victory of this year’s race coming this afternoon in a sodden Soria. The CV-Kelme team leader was set up perfectly for the final uphill sprint by his team-mates, and won it by several bike lengths from Stuart O’Grady. With the heavy rain and wet roads causing a measure of difficulty for the riders in the closing kilometres, there were some notable splits in the peloton chasing in behind Valverde. Of almost as much note as the CV-Kelme rider’s win were the names of some of the 10 other riders who finished in the same time. Denis Menchov was third, Roberto Heras fifth, Stefano Garzelli sixth, Francisco Mancebo seventh, Aitor Gonzalez eighth, Damiano Cunego ninth, Cadel Evans 10th and Alexandre Vinokourov 11th. Isidro Nozal, Tyler Hamilton and Carlos Sastre each lost a handful of seconds, while Joseba Beloki was among a large group that finished 15 seconds down. Overall, US Postal’s game of pass-the-jersey extended for another day, as Benoit Joachim followed team manager Johan Bruyneel’s instructions by watching for breaks and consequently spending most of the day at the front in the company of Andy Flickinger (Ag2r), Kevin Hulsmans (Quick Step) and Thorwald Veneburg (Rabobank). The quartet gained a maximum lead of 10 minutes, but were ultimately thwarted as much by the strong headwind as by the chase from behind. Joachim’s considerable consolation, though, was to take the leader’s gold jersey from team-mate Max Van Heeswijk after the Luxemburger picked up some bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints. Having won the sprint at a canter, Valverde admitted afterwards that he had thought of not contesting the finish because he felt it was tricky enough even without the rain. “But the team worked well and I decided to go for it when I realised in the final section that I was with Freire, Vinokourov and O’Grady,” he explained. The Murcian rider also confirmed that he will leave CV-Kelme if the team does not gain admittance to the Pro Tour on Wednesday. Stage 3, Burgos-Soria 1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunitat Valenciana-Kelme 157.1km in 3.43.17 (42.21kph) 2 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Cofidis 3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 4 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 5 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 8 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 9 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 10 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 11 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 15 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 0.05 36 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 0.15 57 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 60 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 71 David Zabriskie (USA) US Postal 84 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 128 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 0.31 149 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank 1.01 159 Scott Sunderland (Aus) Alessio-Bianchi 1.18 179 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 2.48 Overall standings 1 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal-Berry Floor 9.16.00 2 Max Van Heeswijk (Hol) US Postal 0.16 3 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 0.22 4 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 5 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 6 Victor Hugo Pe¤a (Col) US Postal 7 David Zabriskie (USA) US Postal 8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 0.38 9 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.45 18 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 1.12 19 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 1.13 31 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 1.32 32 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.35 39 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Cofidis 1.44 40 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 1.45 50 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 2.02 73 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 2.12 120 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank 3.24 145 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 4.58 162 Scott Sunderland (Aus) Alessio-Bianchi 5.52