Valverde denies Thomas in Criterium

Valverde celebrates alongside Thomas and Yukiya Arashiro

Road world champion Alejandro Valverde edged out Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas to claim victory in the Saitama Criterium on Sunday.

A total of 53 riders took part in the race, which was contested over 19 laps of a 3.1 kilometre circuit in Japan.

Four-time Grand Tour victor Vincenzo Nibali rode aggressively early on and broke clear with Alexander Kristoff, Matteo Trentin and home rider Yusuke Hatanaka.

But Valverde and Team Sky rider Thomas, who at that stage rode within the peloton, never let the gap grow bigger than 15 seconds.

The pack came back together with 19 kilometres remaining, before Thomas initiated an attack in the last 15 kilometres.

Nibali and Valverde attacked with the 32-year-old, alongside Special TDF Japan Team riders Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu, as the crowd hoped for a home race winner.

But Nibali and Beppu fell back as the finish approached and the final sprint ultimately came down to a battle between Valverde and Thomas.

And Spaniard Valverde (Movistar) edged out this year’s Tour de France hero to claim victory, while Arashiro completed the podium places, to the delight of the Saitama spectators.

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