Four years after his last two victories in the Ardennes, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) returns to the trio of one-day, hilly Classics with strong morale and some solid performances to back up his team’s belief that he can once again have an impact in races like Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Valverde’s finely-calculated recent win in the GP Miguel Indurain, his first victory since a stage of the Vuelta back in 2019 and the first of Movistar’s men’s team in 2021, as well as two very aggressive races in the Volta and Itzulia Basque Country, all point to a potential revival of the Spaniard further north in the Classics next week.
History is certainly on his side, for all the Spaniard is due to celebrate his 41st birthday on April 25, the day of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he holds an astonishing total four victories, just one less than the all-time record held by Eddy Merckx.
Valverde has taken just one podium finish in the Ardennes since 2017, a second place in the Flèche Wallonne in 2018. In 2019, he abandoned Liège with 100 kilometres of racing left to go. This year, though, his form is clearly good, and as this is very probably his last season as a pro, his motivation is arguably even higher than usual.
“To be honest, I’m not expecting a particular result. I’m just going to enjoy watching him take part,” Movistar’s long-standing team manager Eusebio Unzue told Cyclingnews.
“It’s been very exciting to see Alejandro, still up there finishing third in Vallter 2000 in the Volta and how he won the GP Indurain, with a textbook-perfect strategy. And at the Itzulia although the two Slovenians” - Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), third and first respectively - “were in a class of their own, he showed a really strong level throughout the week, and I would say he deserved to be on the podium.”
As it was, Valverde took seventh, as well as third on the fraught final stage to Arrate.
“At the bare minimum, and particularly if these are his last Ardennes, we know we’ve got to make the most of his form there,” Unzue said.
But regardless of the result, “That he’s able to form part of the group of favourites in a race like Liège is fantastic. So I don’t want to put any pressure on him, just having his name mentioned as one of the eight or 10 possible favourites is impressive enough as it is.”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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