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Alejandro Valverde interview: Back to his best

Fresh from his win at the Tour of Abu Dhabi, Alejandro Valverde discusses his return to form with Laura Meseguer

Laura Meseguer
26 Feb 2018

With his victory in the Queen stage and overall classification of the Tour of Abu Dhabi, Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde has already achieved eight victories in just 14 days of competition in 2018.

Seven months after his heavy crash at the Tour de France that could have cost him his career, Valverde is back and stronger than ever. 

I first spoke with Valverde during la Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, when he was in a near-ecstatic state. He took his first victory of the season during the second stage of the race, and for him it was one of the most important of his career.

It proved that nothing was lost in the crash seven months ago at the Tour de France, when he broke his kneecap and talus bone in his ankle. At la Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, he was back to his best.

'It would be nice to win the day after tomorrow,' he said, almost getting carried away with himself. 'If everything is covered by snow, the photo of the finish line will be beautiful.' He is referring to Saturday's Queen stage of the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana with the finish at Puerto de las Canteras.

He did win, although there wasn’t much snow…

‘Honestly, it was not my intention to win the stage, but just to keep my leadership,' he said afterwards. 'I went to the head of the race and when I looked back no one was behind.’ 

A strong start

His fourth place in his debut at the Challenge Mallorca already gave a hint that he had worked back into good form. In the course of the race, he said, ‘I freed myself from all the burdens of the previous months.’ 

Startlingly, it is 14 years after his first victory in Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, and this year he won it for the third time. ‘The only difference is that I'm much older now, but I have the same or even more enthusiasm and motivation than in 2004.’

It comes off the back of a fantastic season last year, right up until his crash. In 2017 he achieved 11 victories in 35 days of competition that, in spite of his short season, was enough for him to place seventh on the UCI’s Individual World Ranking. 

He recognises that the key to his success these last years is the freedom he feels after reaching the podium in the 2015 Tour de France. The Tour started as a dream and turned into an obsession for Valverde. 

Having finished in third place behind Nairo Quintana and the winner Chris Froome that year, he now enjoys the competition much more, and can ride without pressure, allowing him to risk more without the anguish of defeat. 

Valverde on his way to victory at the Tour of Abu Dhabi, Credit: LaPresse - Ferrari / Paolone

Looking ahead

His immediate short-term goals for this season are the Strade Bianche, Volta a Catalunya and the Classics, where he has 11 victories, including four Liège-Bastogne-Liège and five at Flèche-Wallone. 

He would like to ride the Giro de Italia again this year. However, after his third place on his debut in the race in 2016, he will sacrifice his personal ambitions to save his energy for the Tour de France, where he will work in the service of Nairo Quintana, alongside Mikel Landa. 

Valverde's own shot at Grand Tour glory will come at the Vuelta a España, which will also serve as a warm up for the Road World Championships in Innsbruck, his biggest goal for 2018 and his unfinished business, to which he refers to as his ‘last big opportunity’.

It seems amazing to hear that at 37 he feels ‘stronger that in 2017’. Only seven months ago he went into surgery in the Hospital of Dusseldorf after his terrible crash during the opening stage of the Tour de France. 

The first diagnosis suggested that his injury might end his cycling career. However, a month and a half later, during the first days of la Vuelta a España, members of his team Movistar threw up their hands in surprise when they heard he wanted to compete at the Tour of Guangxi in October. The Spaniard hasn't lost his ability to surprise even those closest to him. 

When the Vuelta a España arrived in Murcia last year, he went to visit the peloton with his family. His wife Natalia remarked that since the first minute after his surgery he had been 100% dedicated to his recovery.

‘If the doctor said he had to do four hours of rehabilitation, he was doing eight. It was like that every day. Without complaining,’ she said. Two days after his surgery he was able to stand and a month and a half later he was back on his beloved bike.

It seems remarkable that a full 15 years have passed since Valverde took second place in the Road World Championships in Hamilton, Canada, in 2003. The Spaniard is about to turn 38 and, despite already having 113 victories under his belt, he is plainly in no mood to slow down any time soon. 

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