At 36 years of age, Alejandro Valverde was one of the oldest debutants at this year’s Giro d’Italia - third oldest behind Ruben Plaza and Jean-Christophe Peraud to be exact. They say that it’s better late than never and upon crossing the line in Turin on Sunday, Valverde finally completed his hat-trick of Grand Tour podium finishes.
The Movistar rider cemented his third place overall, at 1:17 behind the winner Vincenzo Nibali, adding it to last year’s third at the Tour de France and his six top three finishes at the Vuelta a Espana. There was also success for his teammate Andre Amador with a day in pink and an eighth place finish.
"I really liked it. I enjoyed racing here so much. It's a completely different race to the Tour, it's more similar to the Vuelta a España, it's way calmer and the stress is different to what you suffer in France. Why not come back next year?"
"It's been a great Giro d'Italia for our team. We've worn pink with Andrey, won a stage, fought for some more with second and fourth places... and at the end, after so many sacrifices, we took that third spot overall. Personally, I'm really happy with how the season is going for me so far, and also to have claimed that podium finish in my first-ever Giro d'Italia.”
Valverde’s path to the podium was far from straightforward and was helped, in part, by the misfortune of Steven Kruijswijk on stage 20. Valverde looked strong at the end of the first week and the beginning of the second and an attack on stage 10 nudged him into the top three. His early performances put him alongside Nibali as a leading favourite for the maglia rosa.
The Spaniard’s ambitions took a blow, however, when he lost three minutes on the first of the major mountain stages to Corvara. A strong performance in the mountain time trial sent him into the rest day with hope, and he began the final week with a stage win in Andalo. The altitude took its toll on Valverde again when the race went over the Colle dell’Agnello, but Kruijswijk’s crash on the descent gave him a shot at stepping onto the podium.
"We had many days of pure struggling, but we knew how to stand up, bounce back and get to the place where we wanted to me,” said Valverde. “I knew that after Corvara, a bad day for me, due to the altitude and difficult sensations-, there was still much to be ridden in this Giro. What normally happens in this race is that the final week is so hard that changes can happen everywhere. Plus, all the big favourites had at least one really bad day. That made things so exciting for the fans. My victory in Andalo was a huge relief for the team, and showed that we had recovered well from such misfortune."
Valverde will now enjoy a short break before beginning the build-up to his next major target of the season. "My next big objective now is the Rio Olympics,” Valverde explained.
“We will go to the Tour in order to support Nairo Quintana. I want to make it clear, from this very moment, that I will be losing time on the first week and take things easier so I can help Nairo out and give my best in the mountains. Also, if it's possible and it doesn't compromise the team's goals, I'd like to chase some stage wins or make it into the break and help the team from there."