An interview with Alejandro Valverde, September 27, 2008
Alejandro Valverde finished the Vuelta a Espana in fifth, not bad result for a 'preparation' race. After all, Balaverde is shooting for the world title in Varese, where the course should suit a puncheur like him. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake evaluates Valverde's preparations.
Valverde is one man particularly eager to prevent Paolo Bettini from making history. Bettini could enter the record books by winning his third consecutive world title, and to combat this Valverde used his national tour, the Vuelta a Espana, to meticulously prepare for the season-ending event in Varese.
Valverde did not think finishing the Vuelta would leave him too tired for Sunday's road race. "Honestly, I believe that I am in very good shape, although even I have to wait and see how I will recover from the three weeks of many efforts during the Vuelta." Valverde approached the Vuelta seriously through to its finale, unlike others, who merely used it as getting in quality training ahead of the road race in Italy. "In spite of the fact that I was no longer fighting for the podium, I gave it all in the time trial in Navacerrada to test my actual condition."
He was extremely pleased with his third place in Navacerrada, behind the Astana duo of Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador - tied on time with Contador, in fact. "I responded by giving one hundred percent, which is a very good sign. Personally, I wanted to finish the race because it was very important for me to arrive in Madrid," said Valverde. In his opinion, not going all the way to Madrid may not prove to be an advantage on Sunday, however. "For example, a rider like Paolo Bettini went home only the day before the time trial. It was a very tough stage, but very short."
The world championship race is clearly important to Valverde. "The world championship remains a very important objective," he said. "I hope to add a victory to my palmarès, but if I do not succeed I will be satisfied all the same with what I achieved in 2008." Valverde has indeed enjoyed a stellar 2008 season, one that saw him win a diverse range of races. He prevailed in Classics like Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Clásica San Sébastian. He won a prestigious stage race - the Dauphiné Libéré. He successfully grabbed the Spanish road championship title. And his consistency throughout the season left him winning the ProTour title in the end.
A strong team
Spain has shown in the Olympic Games it has a strong team and Valverde expects no less in Varese. "It is undisputably a very strong team, I think the strongest of all [the teams]." But the Caisse d'Epargne rider won't make the mistake of underestimating his competitors, especially the host nation. "As usual, the squadra azzurra will also be very strong," he said. "And the Italians will be doubly motivated by riding at home."
Valverde sees advantages in the bonds of the Spanish team, which is a very important factor. The Spanish squad has more than one favourite and in-fighting could hurt the team's chances. But it worked well in Beijing and Valverde was optimistic it could work this time around, too. "The force of the Spanish squad is its unity because when we wear the same jersey, we forget that we are adversaries in other races. We proved it at the time of the Olympic Games in Beijing and I hope that we will do the same in Italy, where I will share the leadership with Oscar Freire."
If Valverde or Oscar Freire is the man to go to will depend on how the race unfolds. Freire has indicated they expect a group of 30 or 40 riders to arrive in the finale, in which case Freire will be Spain's man. But should the race prove to be tougher, then Valverde will get his chance. "If I feel good, I will try to go with a break or attack in the final," he explained. "If it is not the case, or that a big group arrives together, I will launch the sprint so that Oscar can win his fourth title." Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez has also already indicated his willingness to ride a support role.
"What seems certain is that it is a very fast lap and that it will be necessary to be particularly attentive," Valverde said of the Varese course. He's one man who knows the importance of paying attention, after giving away a podium finish in the Vuelta in the rainy stage to Suances, when he was left behind in the peloton. He lost over three minutes that day to the favourites, so he knows the importance of staying vigilant.