Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) came through his first experience on the cobbles with flying colours at Dwars door Vlaanderen. The Spaniard helped to light up the race in the latter stages and finished safely within the bunch, behind race winner Niki Terpstra, to complete his pavé debut.
Despite the conditions that greeted the peloton, Valverde seemed to enjoy the challenge. "I am happy. I think that it was all OK over the pavé. We knew that it would be hard, but we couldn’t have asked for a better race and I’m really happy," he said at the finish. "(It was) spectacular. In general the whole atmosphere and the sensations were really good."
Valverde came into the race having never competed on the cobbles before, and only came to the race to learn to ride on the pavé ahead of this year’s Tour de France, but says that his lack of knowledge didn’t hinder him. "I haven’t experienced this race, but I have a lot of experience in the finishes at Liège, Amstel, Flèche, the Tour and the Worlds. It’s not so different in the finish," he said. "I am not surprised, because I knew that I would be OK. The sensations were good and I felt good in the finish,"
The Movistar team was given a seasonably wet Belgian welcome with the rain descending on the riders just before the start. No doubt, Valverde felt a sense of worry as he saw the tricky cobbled turn slick, thus making his job of getting through the 200 kilometre event just a little bit harder. However, the Spaniard hardly looked troubled as he rode alongside seasoned cobbles riders.
Not content with sitting in the group and lapping up the lesson he was learning on the pavé, Valverde decided to have a little dig out front. With just over 20km and two more cobbled climbs to go the Spaniard latched onto Stijn Devolder’s chase of Niki Terpstra, who held a 30 second advantage on the peloton, along with Gert Steegmans and Nicki Sørensen. The quartet managed to reduce the gap to Terpstra, before they were eventually reeled in by the peloton with just two kilometres remaining.
After Valverde’s recent performance at Roma Maxima, where he held off a baying peloton by a single second, it looked like he might just repeat that result. Despite his impressive showing, Valverde says that a victory on his Dwars door Vlaanderen debut was beyond him. "To win would have been difficult with Steegmans on my wheel, but maybe I could have done it with some harder climbs in the finish," he explained.
Now that he has his first tilt on the cobbles over and done with, Valverde looks like he might be up for some more. The Spaniard said that he would also take to the start of E3 Harelbeke on Friday. The hilly course would suit his style, and with some cobbles already under his belt he could make a more concerted effort at a result. He was reluctant to say if he would try something similar, saying only "we will see what happens on Friday."
And what of next year? With no cobbles at the Tour to force his hand, would the grand tour rider come back to Flanders to tackle the pavé again. "Yes, it is a beautiful race so why not," he said with a smile.