Alejandro Valverde had the quietest of celebrations of his 34th birthday on Friday in the Movistar team hotel near Liège. But on Sunday the Spaniard has high hopes of a much more spectacular cycling fiesta and that he will be cracking open the champagne in style after taking his third win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Following Valverde’s Flèche Wallonne triumph, a victory in La Doyenne would be his second Ardennes Classic in five days, and after winning both races in 2006, it would also be the second ‘Ardennes double’ of his career.
Valverde, like so many other Liège-Bastogne-Liège contenders, did a reconnaissance of the course on Friday, in Movistar’s case from the foot of La Redoute to the finish. And as he told Cyclingnews, he thinks the return of the Cote de Roche aux Faucons and the Côte des Forges climbs in the final part of the race “will make it a much harder finale. It changes things quite a bit.”
“But my morale is good, particularly after Wednesday’s win, where I felt in top form. Sunday’s a very different kind of race, but I’ve already shown I could do well there too,” - with his most recent result in Liège-Bastogne-Liège a third place in 2013 as well as wins in 2006 and 2008.
“One worry I have is the weather, hopefully it’ll stay dry” - and his birthday wish looked set to come true, with forecasts improving steadily as Liege’s 100th edition draws closer. On Saturday morning some wet weather was still forecast for later in the weekend, but for Sunday afternoon only light showers rather than the earlier predictions of a downpour.
Touted by many as a top favourite together with Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Valverde repeated that he felt the race was much more wide open and there were plenty of other contenders.
“We’ll be one of several teams wanting to control the race, not just our two. There’s Purito (Rodriguez) and Dani Moreno (Katusha) as well, (Vincenzo) Nibali (Astana), (Bauke) Mollema (Belkin) who’s supposed to be stronger than ever. There’s a lot of different people.”
After Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Valverde will rest and head for a spell of altitude training in Spain before returning to racing at the Criterium du Dauphine, followed by the Spanish Nationals and the Tour.
“That’ll be my first break of the year. So far, it’s been a very good season for me, above all after taking this last win,” Valverde - who now has eight victories this season - reflected. But before thinking about the Tour and the rest of the year, first for the Spaniard comes Sunday - and maybe a late birthday present to himself.
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