Alejandro Valverde takes final climb to clinch Abu Dhabi Tour cycling race
Ten-kilometre ascent of Jebel Hafeet marked by long closing duel between Valverde and Lopez
Alejandro Valverde battled gusty winds and rain to be crowned the overall winner of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Sunday.
Movistar Team's Valverde edged Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana in the final three kilometres of 199km final stage, which concluded at the summit of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. The Spaniard and his Colombian rival both clocked four hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds.
Julian Alaphilippe, the Quick-Step rider from France, finished a further 15 seconds behind in third place as he made the same time as did Rafal Majka of Bora-Hansgrohe and Team Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman. In the overall classifications though, Valverde finished 17 seconds ahead of Kelderman. Lopez was third, another 12 seconds behind.
It was a day to forget for Kelderman's teammate - fellow Dutchman Tom Dumoulin - and the man who upstaged him in the time-trial Stage 4 on Saturday, Rohan Dennis. While Dumoulin suffered a second mechanical problem in as many days, overnight leader and Red Jersey holder Dennis cracked at the foot of Jebel Hafeet to finish ninth overall.
Valverde, whom Dennis had been admittedly wary of after victory on Saturday, thanked his team for their “great job” all week. He also explained why Sunday's success was down to having done their homework.
"I arrived on Friday [the previous week]. I climbed Jebel Hafeet once on Saturday, twice on Monday and Tuesday. I did it to get accustomed to the climate and the time difference," he said, the Golden Grit trophy in hand.
“It’s been a complicated day today with the wind and a bit of rain. Today’s stage was to my advantage, and we wanted to make the best of it."
The 37-year-old cyclist said he was delighted to win a World Tour race, but that there was plenty more to achieve over the new season.
“As a team, we have started the season on the right foot," Valverde said. “Our motivation is great. This victory is special. It’s outside Europe in a very nice race."
Meanwhile, the UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa, winner of last year's race, finished the stage eighth and ninth, respectively, for a seventh and eighth finish overall.
“The final climb was really hard, as we knew,” Ulissi said. “I haven’t raced since Australia and I only managed a short training camp before Abu Dhabi. Maybe, in comparison to some other riders, I missed some rhythm."
But Ulissi was satisfied to finish in the top 10, both in the final stage and in the overall General Classification.
Costa added they "knew it would be a really challenging stage at Jebel Hafeet, but we saw it as an opportunity to benchmark my condition against the other riders".
“We put in a lot of effort in the first part of the climb," he added, "and in the final part we pushed it to the limit to secure a top 10 place.
“It was great to ride again in Abu Dhabi [and to] see the support of our home fans. We look forward to a long and successful season with the team.”
Updated: February 25, 2018 08:21 PM