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With the mythic Mortirolo on the day’s menu, the 42-year-old from Movistar rode into the day’s main breakaway Tuesday in the four-climb 202km 16th stage.
Valverde crossed the line fifth at 1:24 back and bounced up into the top-10 overall, but fell short of his goal of winning a stage.
“I ended up spending more than I had realized, and by the Santa Cristina climb I was paying for it,” Valverde said. “I just set my rhythm and tried to finish off the stage as best as I could. We’ll see what we can do in the coming days.”
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This Giro is part of Valverde’s farewell season dubbed “la última bala,” the last bullet, a play on words of his longtime nickname of “BalaVerde,” or the Green Bullet.
The climb-heavy stage saw an inevitable battle of attrition, and Valverde scrapped his way into a leading quartet that arrived to the final climb up to Aprica at about three minutes ahead of the chasing GC group.
The Movistar captain ran out of gas, however, when the late-stage attacks from Lennard Kämna, Jan Hirt, and Thymen Arensman came out of the break to battle for the stage win on the final 15km climb.
Valverde could not respond, and he hitched a ride when the GC riders pulled through.
“It was a hard day, very, very hard,” Valverde said. “I could get into the break after this initial fight, but the truth is that no one wanted to truly work together in the key moments of the stage.
“I also didn’t want to pull more than anyone else,” he said. “Especially after leaving behind the team, and without a real understanding in the group.”
Tuesday’s fifth was the best so far in this Giro by Valverde, who continues to insist that his focus is winning a stage.
Behind the big effort, he moved into 10th overall at 9:04 back.
Valverde returned to the Giro this year just for the second time in his career. He was third overall in 2016.
Valverde will skip the Tour de France this year and will race at the Vuelta a España in what likely will be his final race.
Time could be running out for a stage victory, however. With the GC still tightly bound, Valverde is too close on GC for his rivals to let him slip away in the closing climbing stages.
Gracias como siempre, @alejanvalverde 👏
5ª posición para el ‘Bala’ en la 16ª etapa del 🇮🇹 #Giro en Aprica. Jan Hirt (IWG) se lleva el triunfo.
A quien da todo como tú, desde hace 20 años, nada más se puede pedir. ¡Vamos a por las próximas! #LaÚltimaBala
— Movistar Team (@Movistar_Team) May 24, 2022