While Alejandro Valverde has received praise from all quarters for his winning performance in this year's Vuelta a España, fellow contender Samuel Sanchez and Caisse d'Epargne manager Eusebio Unzué have explained why the Spaniard managed to make the title his after years of trying.
"At the end he was the best of La Vuelta. There were 21 days of competition - what is at a premium is consistency, and Valverde struggled the least. I had few delays over the 3000 kilometres and didn't win because Valverde was better than me and took advantage of my mistakes," said Samuel Sanchez, who finished second overall to Valverde.
The consistency the Olympic road race champion speaks of could be seen when Valverde remained solid as rivals such as Robert Gesink, Cadel Evans, Sanchez and Ezequiel Mosquera experienced bad fortune in the form of crashes, poorly-timed mechanical problems or minor form slumps in the mountains.
Caisse d'Epargne general manager Eusebio Unzué explained that this stoicism is due in a large part to Valverde's increased maturity. In previous editions of the Vuelta, Valverde has stumbled at crucial times whilst in contention for overall honours, resulting in a dramatic drop in the standings or a podium near-miss as the race reached Madrid. In 2009 none of the old scenarios resurfaced and he displayed what many had predicted up to five years ago.
"In recent years he had created around him a 'fatal' image because he could not stay focused for three weeks but we showed that this was not the case this year. At 29, now he's more mature," Unzué told Europa Press.
"This tour was very difficult for our team," he continued. "We harnessed the strength of the team, which did a great job, and Alejandro Valverde, who was perfect. All they saw was that he had the threat of his rivals under control. He is a great rider," said Unzué.
Foe now turns friend as Sanchez is anticipating joining forces with Valverde to take on the Italian juggernaut at the world championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland. "At worlds, [Spanish] coach José Luis de Santos told me that we're free to ride but we must be feeling good; Valverde and I must join forces and face Italy, which is the main rival, since it is a selective worlds," he explained.