Alejandro Valverde clocked up his 10th victory of 2018 when he emerged first from the mist atop Les Monts d’Olmes to claim stage 3 of the Route d’Occitanie, but the Spaniard downplayed his prospects of leading Movistar’s Tour de France challenge next month.
Valverde is set to line up alongside Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana in a star-studded Tour selection, but despite his remarkable form, the 38-year-old suggested that his role in that triumvirate would primarily be a supporting one.
“We’ll go there with other objectives since we’re going to be working for Landa and Nairo,” Valverde told Directvelo.com when asked if he could win the 2018 Tour.
Valverde’s best displays at the Tour have come in the period since he served a ban following his implication in the Operacion Puerto blood doping inquiry. He placed third overall in 2015, 4th in in 2014 and rode strongly in the service of Quintana two years ago while helping himself to 6th place in Paris. A year ago, Valverde’s Tour ended prematurely when he crashed out during the opening time trial in Dusseldorf.
That incident left Valverde with a fractured kneecap, but he returned to action at the start of the 2018 season and was immediately back to his best, winning a stage and the overall at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He proceeded to rack up nine wins during the Spring, though he was denied a fifth successive Flèche Wallonne triumph by Julian Alaphilippe and then could only manage 13th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Valverde had not raced since the Ardennes Classics as he throttled back in preparation for the Tour, and his performance on the queen stage of the Tour d’Occitanie – formerly the Route du Sud – indicated that he will be a force to be reckoned with at the Tour next month.
Valverde, Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) proved the strongest on the 15km haul to the finish. After withstanding a brace of attacks from Elissonde, Valverde accelerated near the summit to claim the stage honours and move into the overall lead.
“It’s been a very great victory, well deserved by the entire squad. I want to thank them because their job today was phenomenal, from start to finish,” Valverde said. “They put on an impressive acceleration into the final two climbs, left a very reduced group at the front and after that, it was my task to bring the victory home, take over the GC lead and start thinking about what’s coming tomorrow.”
Sunday’s concluding stage includes the category 1 ascent of the Pic de Nore before a flatter run-in to the finish in Cazouls-les-Béziers, where Valverde will be expected to seal overall victory.
“Sunday’s stage will be a difficult one, where we’ll have to work really hard to keep this jersey with us. You’ll need a great squad by your side, and luckily, the boys have proven to be doing well,” Valverde said. “For the time being, we’re really happy with this stage win and the GC lead. I’m personally glad to see I’m doing well, confident for tomorrow and also for what will be coming in July.”