Valverde eyes Merckx's Liege-Bastogne-Liege record

Spaniard says Tour of Flanders will be a big objective next year

Rather than losing morale after his shock defeat in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) remains strongly upbeat for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, with the chance of equalling Eddy Merckx’s record of five wins a major motivation.

"It’s very important for me," Valverde, already the winner of La Doyenne in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2017, told local newspaper La Meuse on Friday.

"We’re talking about drawing equal with a legend. I have a huge amount of respect for him [Merckx], he stayed humble despite his massive palmarès. And drawing equal to him would give a victory on Sunday a special dimension."

Valverde told the paper that his defeat in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne "changes nothing", and that "I’ve known for a long time I’m not unbeatable."

He added that the disappointment of finishing second to Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) hadn't lasted long. "In cycling, losing is a lot easier than winning," he pointed out.

Furthermore, Valverde told La Meuse that, looking at the television images of the finish of La Flèche Wallonne the evening after the race, he realised he had made a mistake on the Mur itself.

"I didn’t realise at the time, but I took too long to react when Julian accelerated away. With another rider it wouldn't have been a fatal error. But with Julian, it was. I had to come back from too far out and when I saw I couldn't get it, that I would crack if I came to within a metre of him, I eased back."

Looking further ahead, Valverde has said that he has made the World Championships a top priority for his season. The Spaniard holds the record for podium finishes in the Worlds, with two silver medals and four bronze, but has never managed to win it.

In 2019, Valverde will finally make his long-awaited debut in the Tour of Flanders. He dropped into northern Belgium this year for Dwars door Vlaanderen and impressed to such an extent that everyone was talking about a Flanders debut that weekend, but he and his team ultimately decided against it. 

"It will be a major objective," he told La Meuse of the 2019 Tour of Flanders. "I love racing on the pavé and I get the feeling I handle it well, even if I'm a long way off being a specialist."

Then in 2020, he would like to have the Olympics, his fifth participation in the event, as his retirement race.

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