Saturday was Canadian Hugo Houle’s season debut and first race for his new squad Astana, and he celebrated his teammate LL Sanchez’s triumph in a wind-buffeted, 1.1 UCI-rated Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia Costa Calida. Sanchez faced his 12th day of racing in 2018 at the Vuelta Ciclista Murcia, edging out his early-season rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar/Spain) for his 35th career victory. Philippe Gilbert (Belgium/Quick Step) earned third.

Sanchez was part of a group that escaped on a Cat. 1 climb that crested about 60-km from the finish line in Murcia. Sanchez and Valverde then bolted on the others with 50-km remaining before Sanchez shed his compatriot in the final kilometres.

Alas, Houle was one of 64-riders who didn’t finish the race. It was a lash-lashed course that shattered the peloton. After Sanchez and Valverde had finished, some riders were still 30-km from the end.

ProCyclingStats noted the effects of the conditions on the riders.

Not only did Houle make his season debut, but fellow Canuck Nigel Ellsay also had his first ride for Rally Cycling. Rob Britton, Ryan Anderson and Adam de Vos were Rally’s other Canadians, the trio having contested the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana earlier in the month. All four of Rally’s Canadians finished the race.

Anderson was one of many riders racing in little groups all over the road. He was top Canadian at 25th.

Sanchez got the better of Valverde after coming runner-up to the Green Bullet in the Volta a Valencia. Valverde has had fewer days of racing than his compatriot, but the wily vet has two stages wins and the GC of the Volta a Valencia on his 2018 palmares, along with second, third and fourth in one day races.

The Ruta del Sol is up next for Sanchez, while Valverde faces the WorldTour Abu Dhabi Tour. Anderson, de Vos and Britton will stay in Spain to ride the Ruta del Sol (February 14-18) and Sunday’s Clasica de Almeria.

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