Valverde, goodbye to the legend of Unbeaten


Visual look back at the race of the Murcian cyclist, who will say goodbye on Saturday in search of the achievement in Lombardy

He leaves without wanting to leave. In reality, Alejandro Valverde (Las Lumbreras, Murcia, aged 42) is still the same boy who won all the races he entered and enjoys every bike ride with his lifelong group as a kid. In addition, he looks “very competitive” in every test he participates in. Second, fourth and third were his results in the three races he has played these days on his last tour of Italy where he touched the stick in all finishes and in addition he was a big help to his teammate Enric Mas to win the last Saturday in the Giro dell’Emilia, a surprise for a champion like Tadej Pogacar. But he leaves because it’s what he touches. That’s the way things are. Today everything ends in Lombardy (Eurosport, start 3:00 PM). Today one last monument to the eternal cyclist, the one called the undefeated when he appeared in the elite with a reputation for not losing a single race.

“Seeing the form I have now, which is the same as it was ten years ago, and since I’m among the best, I’ve started to consider whether I want to continue for another year,” Valverde slipped this Tuesday. He doesn’t want to leave, because there’s nothing in the world he likes more than competing. And in fact, he has been delaying his withdrawal for two years. In 2020 it was postponed due to the pandemic. And in 2021, he didn’t want to retire because he felt sorry for the public’s “dealing with empty gutters” due to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus health crisis.

In 2022 he went from tribute to tribute and in the last Vuelta a España he was the protagonist of one of the images of the season, when the peloton let him go on in the last stage and only he received the affection of the public for the most emblematic streets and squares of Madrid. Despite this, Valverde resists. He doesn’t want to, but he lets it. “It’s already been decided and I’m not going any further. I think it’s better to finish like this,” de Bala concluded before this last appointment in Lombardy, as if to convince himself that the 42 years, the 133 victories achieved and his two long decades of brilliant sports career deserve an end to all that was great.. That comes to an end today, in the margins of a visit to Japan on November 6, in which Valverde will participate as an exhibition in the Saitama Criterium.

That is why the Murcian leaves it at this, who has already taken on a new role at Movistar, a team with which he has a contract until 2024. His representative Antonio Sánchez told EFE last Wednesday that Valverde will now be working in jobs of representation and advice, although there are already many who assure that sooner or later he will become sporting director of his current formation (a position Chente García Acosta has held since 2013) or of another UCI WorldTour team.

At Movistar, they value Valverde’s image as an exemplary athlete and everything he can teach other runners, starting with the young people who come from below. This is where Valverde will start, who will combine this task with participation in Movistar’s commercial events and commitments. He will continue to help his brother Juan Francisco in Team Valverde-Ricardo Fuentes, an under-23 team in Murcia.

Valverde is never tired of winning. And the bulge never slipped. He handles pressure like few others. He is the only cyclist in history to have finished in the top ten in most of the races he has competed in. And his insatiable appetite knows no bounds. Until the last day, he sees himself as likely to win, despite his 42 years and the list of participants in Lombardy: Tadej Pogacar, Jonas Vingegaard, Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel, Esteban Chaves, Aleksandr Vlasov, Adam Yates, Miguel Ángel Lopez, among others and Greg Van Avermaet.

“Both Henry [Mas] like me, we like ourselves. If all goes well, I think I’ll be one of the favorites; then, the race, the state of form, that you feel good… it may vary, but today I am good enough to fight for the race. If it goes well with me, I like the route of 2022 more than other years,” explains Bala with that championship race that has always characterized a unique cyclist.

Because in Spain we have had seven winners of the Tour de France, Federico Martín Bahamontes (1959), Luis Ocaña (1973), Pedro Delgado (1988), Miguel Indurain (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995), Óscar Pereiro ( 2006), Carlos Sastre (2008) and Alberto Contador (2007 and 2009), and the feeling is that anything that isn’t part of the Tour is worthless.

But Valverde, who has had a hard time being a prophet in his own country, has been able to make it clear to the Spanish fan that in cycling there is not just the Tour. “If Valverde were Belgian and not Spaniard, he would be a sports myth,” his compatriot and friend, Luis León Sánchez, said recently in Mula. And he is right.

Valverde has been unique in everything. Because he is one of the few Spanish professional cyclists who has not moved to Andorra, where most of them settle to avoid the high tax burden in Spain. His friend José Joaquín Rojas, Ciezano, the retired Purito Rodríguez, Enric Mas, Carlos Verona, Rubén Plaza, Imanol Erviti, Beñat Intxausti, Dani Navarro, David de la Cruz, Iván García Cortina, the aforementioned Luis León Sánchez and Juan José Lobato living in Andorra, which in recent years has also received stars from the selection such as Dan Martin, Esteban Chaves, Egan Bernal, Simon Yates, Rohan Dennis, Julian Allaphilipe and Robert Gesink.

Valverde has never wanted to leave Murcia, where he has everything. He lives quietly in his chalet in Montepinar, on the road that runs from Cabezo de Torres to Cobatillas. There he moves away from the spotlight with his wife, Natalia Benito, and their five children (Alejandro, who plays in the lower categories of Levante, and Iván, born from his first marriage to Ángela González, and Pablo, Natalia and Alessandra from his second). And from there he leaves every morning to train with his usual friends, heading towards Sierra Espuña, the Mar Menor or the northwest.

He will retire from professional cycling, but he will continue to train and it is very likely that he will participate in exhibitions or amateur races next year. «I leave cycling at my highest level. Even if I don’t do anything [hoy] In Lombardy I am very happy because my level in these last three races has been incredible,” admits Valverde, who may have missed another point to finish and won one. However, the data shows that his speed (14 seconds at 993 watts) in last Tuesday’s sprint in the Tres Valles Varesinos classic, where he was overtaken by Pogacar and Higuita, was the same as in the sprint that gave him victory in Valencia four years ago (14 seconds at 999 watts) , in which it was his first win after the bad crash he suffered in the 2017 Tour in the opening time trial in Düsseldorf.

By the way, that autumn was about to stop cycling. And he could remain crippled for the rest of his life. Valverde crashed violently into the fences without protection. He sustained deep cuts to his left shin and kneecap, and numerous blows to that side. He broke his left patella, broke his knee in half and crushed the talus in his ankle. In eight months he was back and he kept winning. In the first month after his comeback, five small victories. 14 months after that very serious accident in Düsseldorf, he was crowned in Innsbruck, in the most extraordinary success of his impressive career. Valverde won the 2018 World Cup in a 300m sprint for the history of Spanish cycling, in which he put his body at 284% intensity and his bike reached a speed of 60.4 km/h. The bullet flew. And then he cried. While the whole cycling world today is crying out to say goodbye to the Murcian legend.

In the first month after his comeback, five small victories. 14 months after that very serious accident in Düsseldorf, he was crowned in Innsbruck, in the most extraordinary success of his impressive career. Valverde won the 2018 World Cup in a 300-meter sprint for the history of Spanish cycling, in which he put his body at an intensity of 284% and his bico reached a speed of 60.4 km/h. The bullet flew. And then he cried.

A Vuelta a España, a World Cup gold, four hatches, podiums and stages in the three greats, five Walloon Flechas… A dizzying list of winners that any cyclist would sign with closed eyes. However, Alejandro Valverde has been so good that some think he could have quit with an even more incredible record had he chosen the calendars better and not become obsessed with the Tour de France, a race he didn’t have in mind.

This week they asked him again in Italy. “My calendar? I’d keep it, I wouldn’t change anything. Have you won other races? I couldn’t say because I’ve won almost all of them (laughs). Getting a podium finish in the Tour is like winning. And I was happy to win a World Cup,” replied the cyclist from Las Lumbreras.

It is already a coincidence (or not) that it is located on Italian roads, the same roads on which the Murcian could not circulate between 2009 and 2011 due to a controversial CONI sanction for its alleged involvement in Operation Puerto, where Valverde decided to writing pages of an unrepeatable career.

He missed the Tour, some say. Perhaps he was over, others comment, as he was not a cyclist to win three-week tests. «My chip change took place on the podium of the Tour, in 2015» [fue tercero]. There I took all the pressure off me. I had chased that stage all my life and now I had it. Since then I have freed myself,” Valverde admits.

In the Classic of the Dead Leaves, where he says goodbye today together with another eternal cyclist like Vincenzo Nibali, Valverde sees himself with options. He likes the route, 253 km that starts in Bergamo and arrives at Lake Como, including the mythical Civiglio climb. “All that’s left is the icing on the cake and that we can be among the best,” he says.

Source: La Verdad


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