It’s strange but true that despite Alejandro Valverde ‘only’ taking bronze during Sunday’s elite men’s road race at the Ponferrada World Championships, rather than the silver and bronze medals he and Joaquim Rodriguez captured for their country in the 2013 edition, the Spanish team seemed much more satisfied with their collective performance.
The hugely controversial failure by Valverde to chase down counterattacker Rui Costa of Portugal when Rodriguez was seemingly en route to a gold medal in Florence has haunted the Spanish line-up since last year.
In Ponferrada, however, there was no such scandal fizzing over into the Spanish media reports about their home World Championships. As the Federation President Jose Luis Lopez Cerron put it afterwards, “we’re a lot happier this time.”
His comment was made because, unquestionably, the Spanish had worked well as a team. After Vuelta a España stage winner Dani Navarro had acted as watchdog in a dangerous 12-rider break, during the final 30 kilometres Jon Izaguirre and Imanol Erviti were instrumental in chasing down attacks.
Jonathan Castroviejo also helped lead out Valverde as he soared away on the Mirador in pursuit of Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
Valverde ended up as part of a strong chase group, and only Simon Gerrans was able to beat him in the final dash for the line behind Kwiatkowski.
Bronze was the sixth podium finish that Valverde has secured in the World Championships since he first took the silver medal back in 2003 at Hamilton, however, it rounded off a year in which the 34-year-old has shown a remarkable level of consistency that included 11 wins.
Asked if he had felt any extra pressure as a result of racing a World Championships on home soil in Spain, Valverde answered, “it was the same as ever, not any worse, not any better.
“We got lots of support and we did what was expected. Spain got two medals last year, this year we’ve got one. We have to be happy with that.”
Spain were not as present in quite as much force as had been expected in the middle segment of the race but Valverde argued that they knew that Italy was going to up the pace at that point, and they were able to profit from it.
“The more time we spent at the back, the better for the last part,” he said. “Others were doing that particular job well, particularly Italy. It was very difficult to control the race, so we did what we could and waited for our turn.”
When the break chasing down Kwiatkowski formed over the Mirador following Valverde’s counterattacks, Valverde said, “we all worked together. Gilbert worked hard in the last kilometre. The gap was hard to bring back and finally we started looking at each other because we knew by that point we were fighting for a medal.” - but not for gold.
“I wanted the silver but Gerrans is quick and in fact he was the rider who worried me the most in that group. We all worked behind so the bunch wouldn’t catch us and we almost caught Kwiatkowski.”
Valverde says that even if he was defeated for a sixth time, this was far from being the end of his ambitions for Worlds. He recently signed on with Movistar for three more years and said, "I’m going to keep on fighting."
Grinning broadly when a journalist asked Kwiatkowski - at his side in the post-race press conference - how exactly the Pole pronounced his name, Valverde noted that Kwiatkowski would be a tough competitor for years to come.
“From now on, we can’t rule Michal out, ever, in any race. He’s a very good rider, he’s great on his tactics, he’s younger than us and he’ll have a lot more opportunities to shine, not just today. We’ll do our best to make sure things don’t just go his way.”
After years in which the Spanish have spent the post-race interviews in blame games, Valverde had nothing but praise this time for his teammates.
“The national team was superb, I can't thank them enough,” he said. “We worked well so I could try and jump across to go for a bunch sprint but we couldn't control everything. Kwiatkowski rode excellently, though, and he deserves this win.”
As for his collection of six medals, he said, “I wanted the gold but this is another bronze. If you hit the goal posts that often, it’s because you’ve been close to scoring.”