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41 and flying: Like it or not, Valverde is still among the world’s best

In 2020, Alejandro Valverde disappeared winless for the first season in a decade. After roughly two decades racing at the highest level- less a two-year doping ban- it seemed like the 40 -year-old Spaniard was finally starting to slow down.

Four months into the 2021 season, though, and Valverde is giving a hugely different impression.

His season started inconspicuously at the UAE Tour in February, but fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya in March showed a promising trajectory. His solo win at the GP Miguel Indurain in early April was his third victory at the Spanish 1. Pro race and his first earn in virtually 20 months. Similarly impressive was his seventh overall at the Itzulia Basque Country the following week where he was among the race’s best climbers.

And then came’ Ardennes Week ‘, ever a bountiful chase field for the man from Murcia. There, Valverde left little doubt that he is still among the world’s best.

Valverde in action at Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

At last-place Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, Valverde rode to a commendable fifth, in an elite chase group precisely seconds behind the prevail trio. At Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne, a scoot he has triumphed a record five times, Valverde rode to third place – his eighth pulpit finish at the race.

For most equestrians a podium at a WorldTour one-day would be a career spotlight, and certainly at 40 year olds. For Valverde, it was a result that left him wondering what have had an opportunity to, had his positioning been better on the race-ending ascent of the Mur de Huy.

“I knew I had to be up there in a good caste but that wasn’t possible ,” Valverde said afterwards.” In the end I had to work my channel up here and there and made a big effort to do so. I was third, and I’m happy, but I consider I had the legs to be a bit further up at the end .”

But it was his ride at yesterday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege that was perhaps Valverde’s most impressive effort of the season thus far.

Valverde after taking third at Fleche Wallonne.

On his 41 st birthday, Valverde never searched in perturb as the race separate over the day’s final clamber, the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons. When the dirt cleared, Valverde was safely ensconced in the final selection of five riders. As that quintet approached the finish in Liege, he was among the most likely to win the sprint.

Valverde was forced to lead out that sprint from the front, and induced his spate with around 250 metres to go. He’d ultimately be submerge by those with younger legs and finish the working day in fourth.

” Of trend I would have liked to get on the podium, but I felt very good and I attended myself in front again in one of the most beautiful scoots of the season ,” he wrote later on Twitter.

Had Valverde managed to win the sprint, it would have been his fifth victory at’ La Doyenne ‘, a develop that would have drawn him alongside the greatest ever, Eddy Merckx, in the record books. Instead, Valverde will have to settle for four vocation success at the Belgian Monument, and a total of eight top-four finishes.

Or will he?

Valverde( core) en route to fourth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

At meters last year, and even into this year , Valverde was clear: the 2021 season “wouldve been” his last-place as a professional bike racer. Partway through that’ final’ season though, any ability of clarity appears to be gone.

“Last year, I was saying no, but this year I’ve went great feelings again, so it’s not clear if I’ll stop or carry on ,” Valverde said after Fleche Wallonne.” The only reasonablenes[ to continue along 2022] would be if for one rationalization or another the season ends up particularly dull ,” he told Spanish boasts daily Marca back in January.” It would be a shame to leave if there are hardly any hastens due to the virus, and the season is gray and flat. I wouldn’t like that, and I would reconsider it.”

The door appears to be open for Valverde to continue on at Movistar extremely. As he told Marca, his contract with Abarca Sports- Movistar’s holding company- widens for another four years; as a rider this season and in another as-yet-undisclosed role beyond that.

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A berth shared by Movistar Team (@ movistar_team )

For all his considerable success over the years, Valverde remains one of the sport’s most polarising people. His two-year ban from the sport in 2010 -1 1, after being been participating in the Operacion Puerto blood doping investigation, is a bright stain on his record. To numerous, the fact Valverde remains unwilling to acknowledge his apparent wrongdoing( let alone repent for it) shapes him unworthy of forgiveness. For some, questions remain about whether Valverde’s strength so late into his occupation can be traced back, at least in part, to earlier “assistance”.

Regardless of your feelings about Valverde, his longevity and competitiveness are beyond doubt. That he remains one of the world’s best is plain to see. And he’s not done hitherto: he’s got his views on a medal at the adjourned Tokyo Olympics in July.

” I am be concentrated on the Olympic Games and reach out to the highest level ,” he said at an bestows show earlier this year.” There is still a lot left. I hope to reach 100% .”

Assuming Valverde is selected to the Spanish squad for Tokyo, it will be his fifth tour to the Olympics. He’s scooted every copy since the 2004 Olympics in Athens. With a best solution of 13 th in the Beijing road race in 2008( won by teammate Sammy Sanchez ), a top result at the Olympics remains a rare gap in a palmares that includes more than 130 victories, four Monument earns, and a Grand Tour victory.

That Grand Tour victory? The 2009 Vuelta a Espana. It’s at this home Grand Tour that Valverde is likely to close out his 2021 season, if not his career. Valverde’s record at the Vuelta is remarkable- in 14 starts, he’s finished the scoot 13 hours, and finished in the top 10 on 12 instances. He’s hoping for another top ensue there later this year.

“I’d like[ for the Vuelta to] be like a party for being the last year ,” he told Marca.” I’ll enjoy it and try to win again, but I won’t obsess over it. If the acquires come, they will; if not, well , no pasa nada. I’ve had a great time during all these years, and I hope the ending is just as good.”

We’ll have to wait some months before we know whether 2021 is the ending of Valverde’s time as a pro racer. He doesn’t seem to have decided. Perhaps an Olympic medal or transcend Vuelta finish will tip-off the balance in favour of a 2021 retirement.

Regardless, Valverde’s evidencing at the Ardennes Classics makes it clear that, after all these years, he remains one of the best good in the play. What else can he achieve before the shroud closes on his brilliant but divisive job?

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