World Championships feature, September 27, 2008
Alejandro Valverde finished the Vuelta a España in fifth place, not a bad result for a preparation race. After all, Valverde's big goal this fall is the road cycling world championships title in Varese, Italy. The course should suit a puncheur like him. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake is evaluating Valverde's preparations.
Valverde is really eager to prevent Paolo Bettini from making history. Bettini could enter the record books by winning his third consecutive worlds title. Valverde has used his Spanish home tour, the Vuelta a España, to meticulously prepare for the season-ending event in Italy.
Valverde did not think finishing the Vuelta would leave him too tired for Sunday's road race. "Sincerely, I believe that I am in a very good shape, even I have to wait and see how I will recover from these three weeks of many efforts during the Vuelta." Valverde did take the Vuelta seriously to its end, unlike some others, who merely used it as getting in quality training kilometres ahead of the road race in Varese. "In spite of the fact that I was no longer fighting for the podium, I gave it all in the time trial of Navacerrada in order of making a test to know how my shape actually was."
"The World Championship remains a very important objective. I hope to add a victory to my palmarès" -Alejandro Valverde is focused 100% on Sundays race.
He was extremely pleased with his third place in Navacerrada, behind the Astana duo of Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador. He was even tied on time with Contador. "I answered 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." In his opinion, not going all the way to Madrid may not prove to be an advantage on Sunday. "A rider like Paolo Bettini for example 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. 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 had a stellar 2008 season, that saw him win a diverse set of races. He prevailed in Classics like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Clásica of San Sébastian. He won the prestigious Dauphiné Libéré, before taking the Spanish road championship title. His consistency throughout the season netted him the overall win in the ProTour.
A strong team
Spain has shown in the Olympic Games it has a strong team and Valverde expects no less in Varese. "It is indisputably 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. And the Italians will be doubly motivated by riding at home."
Valverde sees advantages in the bonding of the Spanish team, which is a very important factor. The Spanish squad has more than one favourite and infighting could hurt the team's chances. But it worked alright in Beijing and Valverde was optimistic this time around, too. "The force of the Spanish squad is its union because when we wear the same jersey, we forget that we are adversaries in the other races. We proved it at the time of the Olympic Games of 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 will depend on how the race unfolds. Freire had indicated he expected a group of 30 or 40 to arrive, 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. 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 already indicated his willingness to ride a support role.
The Spaniard was using the week after the Vuelta to recover. There was little riding time allocated, but lots of recovery time. Monday he didn't ride at all, Tuesday he did only some 50 kilometres. "The other days [I will train] between 70 and 80 kilometres." Valverde was scheduled to travel to Varese on Thursday, together with the other members of the Spanish road race selection.
Valverde had not seen the course yet, unlike some of his adversaries. "For the moment it is still a mystery for me. Some people told me that it is not hard at all and some others on the contrary that it is a very difficult one." What he could gather from afar was the need to be on the watchout. "What seems certain is that it is a very fast lap and that it will be necessary to be particularly attentive."
Valverde now knows the importance of paying attention. He gave away a better overall result 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. While he looked relaxed the next day when Cyclingnews visited him at the hotel, he surely will remember the importance of staying vigilant.