Valverde first triumphed at Flèche Wallonne in 2006 and, after serving a suspension following his implication in Operación Puerto, he later added four consecutive victories from 2014 to 2017.
The Spaniard’s sequence was broken by Julian Alaphilippe, who emerged victorious in 2018 and 2019. Both men missed last Autumn’s rescheduled edition, won by Marc Hirschi, but they line out among the chief contenders for victory on Wednesday.
Valverde, who finished just ahead of Alaphilippe at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, insisted that Flèche Wallonne would not amont simply to a duel between them on the Mur de Huy.
"The biggest rival for the Mur de Huy has been Julian Alaphilippe in the past," Valverde told Het Nieuwsblad. "He is in shape, but it was not the best Julian I encountered there [at Amstel Gold Race]. Bueno, that doesn't mean anything for Wednesday. It just gives me more confidence for the Flèche Wallone, but he might also win.
“I'm ready for the fight, although it won't be a duel. There are several candidates this year. The most important thing is that I don't get boxed in the last kilometre."
Valverde rattled off a long list of rivals and potential winners at Flèche Wallonne, which had seemed like something of a closed shop during his years of dominance
"It could be Primož Roglič, or Michael Woods, Gaudu, Fuglsang, Pogacar, Hirschi... How many do you want?" Valverde said. "There is not only Julian Alaphilippe."
Though Valverde, who turns 41 on Sunday, has remained a consistent performer in recent seasons, his prodigious win rate has dropped since he annexed the world title in Innsbruck in 2018. His win at the recent GP Miguel Indurain was his first since stage 7 of the 2019 Vuelta a España.
"On Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, I got the confirmation that I am ready for the Ardennes Classics," Valerde said. "Okay, I didn't win, but I never won there before either, and I did go deep into the finale."
Valverde will be on more amenable terrain on the Mur de Huy, where he has finished on in the top 10 on no fewer than nine occasions.
"Flèche Wallone is the championship for riders who are very explosive and go uphill well," Valverde said. "I think I have proven in the past that I meet those conditions."
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