With two first places overall, a second, third fourth and fifth overall as well as numerous stage wins, the Vuelta a España holds no secrets for Alejandro Valverde, who will be pushing for a second outright victory this August after a roller coaster ride in the Tour de France.
The Movistar rider looked set to be a top challenger in the Tour de France with an impressive performance in the Pyrenees, where he was the last non-Sky rider to lose contact with Chris Froome at Ax-3Domaines. However, five days later Valverde lost contact and a huge amount of time on the other main favourites when he punctured and waited for a wheel change just when the race was getting blown apart in crosswinds on stage 13.
He finally finished eighth overall, a result that was impressive considering the big setback of stage 13. But it was all but overshadowed by team-mate’s Nairo Quintana’s dramatic Tour debut, as the Colombian captured second in Paris as well as the King of the Mountains prize, the Best Young Riders classification and a stage win at Annecy.
With no Quintana in the Vuelta, Valverde will be Movistar’s undisputed team leader for the Spanish Grand Tour. He is in top condition, he said, and is the last winner in a Grand Tour stage finish at Peyragudes, during the 2012 Tour.
Speaking in a long press conference held in the gardens of his team hotel in Pontevedra, Valverde recognised that riders who went all out in the Tour could pay a high price in the third week of the Vuelta - as happened to Chris Froome last year.
“That will be the toughest moment of the race, the last week is very demanding,” Valverde said. “And that will favour both Sergio Henao (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali [Team Astana], because they did the Giro not the Tour and have had more time to recover.” Asked if Joaquim Rodríguez [Katusha] or Nibali worried him more, his answer could not have been faster or simpler: “both.”
“But I’ve rested well since the Tour, I feel I’m in good shape, I’ve recovered well, I love this race and I want to be up there. My objective is to be on the highest step of the podium in Madrid.”
Given that last year’s Vuelta was effectively decided at Fuente De, one of the ‘easier stages’ of the third week when Alberto Contador ambushed both Rodríguez and Valverde, the Movistar leader warned that “any stage here can be difficult. You can’t be too careful.”
“Almost all of the uphill finishes are complicated and whilst last year’s [individual] time trial was difficult, it favoured me a little more than this year’s time trial, so that’ll be another key moment.”
Asked if he would prefer to win the World Championships for the first time in his career after four podium finishes - two silvers and two bronzes - or the Vuelta Valverde gave an honest answer.
“That’s a tough one. The Vuelta is very important, but I’ve already won it, taken second and third, too, won stages. I’ve already got four World’s medals, so I would like to be World Champion before I retire. I almost prefer the Worlds,” he finally said, with Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue quickly adding “after the Vuelta,” and Valverde capping that little aside off with an “exactly” to clarify any doubts about his interest in taking a second Grand Tour - and putting July behind him for good.