Richie Porte (Team Sky) has gained yet more ground on his rivals in the UCI WorldTour after an impressive ride to victory in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, which saw the Australian clinch his second top stage race of the 2015 season.

Following the completion of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in Spain early on Sunday afternoon, a few hours later the UCI WorldTour Classic in Belgium, Gent-Wevelgem, was won in a sole move by veteran Luca Paolini (Team Katusha) ahead of Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step) and Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas.

But despite Paolini’s success Porte, already a winner in the 2015 Paris-Nice race, remains firmly in control of the UCI WorldTour after fending off a late challenge in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), who took second overall in Spain.

Valverde nonetheless captured no less than three stage wins, the last on Sunday in Barcelona, and finished the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya just four seconds behind Porte. In a tightly packed general classification, Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) claimed third, five seconds back. The Italian now moves into third place overall in the UCI WorldTour.

Porte though has amassed 303 points and is well ahead of his team mate Geraint Thomas, second overall with 184 points after his podium finish in Belgium’s Gent-Wevelgem. It is an impressive total this early in the season for the Australian, who pointed out that an unexpectedly successful breakaway of three riders in the first stage of the Volta a Catalunya had made his outright victory an uphill struggle.

“I didn’t expect to win after the catastrophe of the first stage,” Porte said after finally capturing the lead on stage five, “and it’s a dream result to get this.”

“I was very motivated and prepared to defend the lead, but you never know what can happen with Alejandro, he’s such a fighter. All credit to the team, we had the numbers there in the final and that’s what saved the race for me.”

Meanwhile in Gent-Wevelgem, Paolini moves into 13th place in the UCI WorldTour after Italy’s first victory in the Belgian cobbled Classic in 22 years.

After heavy rain and galeforce winds battered the Belgian Classic all day, Paolini broke away six kilometres from the finish from a group of half a dozen riders for an impressive solo win.

“This is a surprise but I’m so happy to have won,Paolini said. I don’t think I was the strongest but I played my cards. I knew they’d be waiting for the sprint and so I tried to get away before.

“It was a very difficult day out there. I crashed twice and changed my bike. But I knew the route and could stay up front. We’re up in the north and this is real cycling. The strongest survived today.”

Overall in the UCI WorldTour nations ranking both Australia and Italy reinforced their top two placings overall, largely thanks to Porte’s victory in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Paolini’s win in Gent-Wevelgem.

Australia now have totalled 578 points, whilst Italy have 359 points, with Spain moving up from fifth to third, close behind with 337 points. The other important advance in the top ten classification comes for Belgium, who gain seven spots and move into seventh overall, pushing Norway down to eighth.

With two of their riders in the top two spots in the UCI WorldTour individual ranking, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas, it is hardly surprising that Team Sky are currently heading the teams classification, with 525 points. Etixx-Quick Step remain in second place overall, although what was a gap of 90 points between the British and the Belgian squads has now stretched to 131 points.

On the plus side for Etixx-Quick Step, with total of 394 points, their advantage on third-placed Katusha has now increased, even though the Russian squad’s total has jumped significantly, too, to 301 points. Movistar Team remain in fourth place, too, with BMC Racing Team continuing in fifth.

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