Valverde hoping to finally win the rainbow jersey in Innsbruck

The Spanish men's team arrived in Innsbruck, Austria, for the UCI Road World Championships a day later than planned after missing a flight from their altitude camp at Sierra Nevada, but veteran team leader Alejandro Valverde dismissed the delay had caused them any problems, and is convinced he can fight for the world title that has eluded him for so long.

Valverde leads a strong Spanish team that also includes emerging talent Enric Mas, who finished second overall at the Vuelta a Espana after Valverde's hopes of toppling Simon Yates faded in the mountains of Andorra. The other riders in the Spanish line-up are Jonathan Castroviejo, David de la Cruz, Omar Fraile, Jesus Herrada and Mikel Nieve.

Spain will again race in their garish red and yellow colours on Sunday, making them easy to spot in the 188-rider national-team peloton.

Valverde, 38, has ridden the World Championships 18 times during his professional career. He won a medal as an amateur rider and has finished on the elite men's road race podium six times – more than any other still-active rider – yet he has never pulled on the world champion's rainbow jersey.

Like Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Valverde has never managed to land his white whale. He was second as far back as 2003 in Hamilton, Canada, and most recently third in Ponferrada, Spain, in 2014, after also finishing third the year before in Florence, Italy, where he let then Movistar teammate Rui Costa of Portugal go clear.

Valverde is hoping he can finally add the rainbow stripes to his wardrobe in Innsbruck on Sunday.

"It means a lot for me to be back at the World Championships. I'm proud to be back after missing last year's race after my serious knee injury at the 2017 Tour de France," Valverde said via the Spanish Cycling Federation.

"It's going to be a hard race, so we'll have to save our strength as much as possible for the finale. I don't think it's going to be an aggressive World Championships because it's so hard."

Valverde is expected to be one of the select few riders who can lead over the final, steep Höttinger Höll climb. His numerous victories at Flèche Wallonne, with its uphill finish, and his fast sprint make him a natural favourite, if he can read the race correctly.

"We have a good team, and so if there's a big group on the final laps, we'll have the riders there to be up there. I hope to wait until the very end of the race before making my move," Valverde said, hinting at his race strategy.

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