Valverde wins Saitama Criterium

Alejandro Valverde won the Saitama Criterium. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: Veteran Spaniard cyclist Alejandro Valverde won the Saitama Criterium on Sunday, beating Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas.

Newly-crowned world champion Valverde claimed victory, pipping Thomas and Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro in the race held just north of Tokyo.

“It was a wonderful race,” the 38-year-old Movistar rider told TV Tokyo.

“I’m happy I was able to participate in this race,” he said after finishing the 19-lap race over a three-kilometre course.

Thomas, the 32-year-old Welshman who fulfilled his childhood dream by winning the Tour de France in July, came in second.

The Sky rider is the third Briton to win the Tour de France after Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.

Valverde and Thomas were “very fast,” said Japan’s Arashiro, who finished third.

“But I did my best… I’ll make more efforts for a year again and show people that I can win,” he said, adding he hopes more people will come see cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, the winner of the 2014 Tour de France, finished fourth, while German sprinter Marcel Kittel finished sixth.