Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) said that he has no regrets about his successful career as a professional cyclist, despite his doping ban related to the Spanish investigation dubbed Operación Puerto. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper AS, the world champion reminded that he served his penalty but added that he had never produced a positive test.
"I don't think it's a question of whether or not I have anything to regret," Valverde told AS following his victory at Saitama Criterium held in Japan on Sunday.
Valverde's name had been linked to one of the blood bags seized from doctor Eufemiano Fuentes offices during the Operación Puerto police raid in 2006, but he was initially cleared by a Spanish judge in 2007. The following year, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) matched a DNA sample taken from Valverde at the 2008 Tour de France to some of the seized blood evidence, and they banned Valverde from competing in Italy.
A long battle between Valverde and the UCI ended with the Spaniard receiving a back-dated two-year ban in 2010 that ran through to the end of 2011.
"I never tested positive, but it was decided that I must be sanctioned, and so it was," Valverde said. "I served my sentence and since then the only thing that has concerned me is enjoying cycling.
"Anyone can judge me as they see fit. But they should be aware that I've done everything possible to show that I not only won races before, but after coming back from my ban I have been even better."
Valverde re-joined Movistar in 2012 and has had a highly-successful career since, where he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2015 and 2017, adding to his two existing titles. He also had a streak of Flèche Wallonne victories from 2014-2017, a race he had first won in 2006.
In the Grand Tours, he has finished on the overall podium five times since his return to racing - three times at the Vuelta a España (2012, 2013, 2014) and once at each the Tour de France (2015) and Giro d’Italia (2016).
A crash at the Tour de France in 2017 caused Valverde to have to sit out for the rest of that season, but after a successful surgery and time for recovery, he returned stronger than ever. This year, he had one of his most successful seasons with 14 victories that included winning the elite men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships.
"I fell in the best hands," Valverde told AS of his successful return from injury. "The operation was very fast and in a great place [in the Hospital of Dusseldorf, Germany]. I've still got the screws in my knee, and I do not feel any discomfort. I have friends with the same injury who can hardly get on the bike.
"Then, the recovery, coordinated by Dr. Esparza and with the help of physio Antonio López and Nuria Lorente, went very well. All that, with the support of the family and my desire to return, have made it possible."
Goals for the Giro d'Italia in 2019
Movistar had a disappointing season in the Grand Tours, with their best-placed rider Richard Carapaz in fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia, while Valverde was fifth at the Vuelta a España.
Valverde noted that Movistar were solely focussed on winning the Tour de France with a three-leader team that included himself, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa. Their biggest goal turned out to be a flop, however, when Landa finished seventh, Quintana 10th and Valverde 14th.
Valverde said that he believes Quintana still has a shot at winning the Tour de France, a race the Colombian will target in 2019. He also said that Landa still has the potential to be a key player in the Grand Tours.
As for his own aspirations, Valverde says he thinks he might have already passed his prime for Grand Tour success, but he would still like to try and do well at the Giro d'Italia in 2019.
"This year I came straight in wanting to win, after the crash," Valverde said in an interview with another Spanish newspaper, Marca, again in Japan at the Saitama Criterium. "I'm not sure If I'm going to go with the mindset of trying to win the Giro. It's clear that I’m a bit old now to try and win a three-week race.
"What I can do is my best. We'll see what teammates come as well - we'll see if Landa comes or not - before we work out what my role will be, beyond enjoying it.
"Above all, what I want to do is enjoy it. I'm a rider who likes winning, likes to do well, likes to help the team win. I want to keep being a 'killer' and I want to try and win, wherever I may go."
Valverde, 38, also told Marca that he plans on targeting the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"Since I came back from the sanction, every year I've been better, so I do not know how I'll be, I'd love to win it, and I'll go with the best preparation to get it, but you have to be realistic and recognise that it's very complicated," he said.
In a recent Movistar team press conference, Valverde said that although he has considered retirement after the Olympic Games, he might end up continuing to compete if he is still motivated and performing well.
"If I have a 2020 season where I'm fighting for the wins, why not go for another one?" Valverde said.