A reason to warm to Alejandro Valverde

“There were some unexpected moves by Movistar,” said Tom Dumoulin after the stage. What he meant was there was one unexpected move by Movistar, the team, and then about a billion inexplicable attacks by Alejandro Valverde.

It was hard to know precisely what Valverde was trying to achieve. He didn’t pick a stretch of road particularly suitable for distancing everyone and there was still plenty of flat road to come. Logically, nothing was likely to come from his efforts. On commentary, David Millar reasoned that Valverde attacking ‘for a laugh’ and with that assessment I suddenly warmed to the Spaniard immensely.

Cycling can be a very cold, calculating sport, where riders are forever weighing their efforts. To attack purely for the hell of it – particularly when you’re one of the biggest names – is a wonderful thing.

However, the most meaningful attack came from someone else on the short, cobbled climb near the finish. In fact it wasn’t really an attack; more just sustained speed that saw people drop away.

For once, Tom Dumoulin’s Giant-Alpecin team had men at the finish. The riders they’ve selected were chosen to support John Degenkolb in the sprints – Dumoulin himself may even have been picked on that basis – and this means that the Dutchman has been rather lonely in the mountains. On stage 19, he will have been delighted to arrive at the finish with Degenkolb himself as well as the preposterously named Lawson Craddock (who is, as you’d imagine, American).

Those two riders basically gave Tom Dumoulin a lead-out up the cobbled bit. They went as fast as they could and a couple of small gaps opened up. One was between Dumoulin and Fabio Aru and it lasted until the finish, meaning the race leader doubled his race lead of three seconds to a whopping six seconds.

Watching the highlights, I thought he’d also got some bonus seconds, completely forgetting that 20-odd riders from the break had finished quarter of an hour earlier. Alexis Gougeard was quickest. It was his first Grand Tour stage win.