Valverde: I shouldn't be asked about Operacion Puerto

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has said he shouldn't be asked about Operación Puerto, insisting that he has proven his credibility in other ways since returning from his doping ban in 2012.

The Spaniard won the UCI Road World Championships road race at the end of September and is currently racing in Italy wearing the rainbow jersey, one of the strongest symbols in professional cycling. Yet his victory in Innsbruck reignited debate about his past.

Valverde was handed a two-year ban in June 2010, which was backdated to the start of the year and ran to the end of 2011, after he was implicated in Operación Puerto, which saw a police raid on the premises of disgraced doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in 2006. Valverde's name was linked to one of the many blood bags that were seized but, although the UCI opened disciplinary proceedings, he was cleared by a Spanish judge towards the end of 2007.

However, when the 2008 Tour de France crossed the border to Italy, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) matched the DNA from a blood sample taken from Valverde on the rest day in Cuneo with one of the blood bags. CONI moved to ban Valverde from racing in Italy, which prevented him from riding the 2009 Tour de France as it briefly crossed into Italy on stage 16.

After a long legal battle, Valverde was handed a worldwide ban in 2010. He was welcomed back with open arms by the Movistar team in 2012 and has raced with the team since then, winning consistently, including Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2015 and 2017 and four editions of La Fleche Wallonne.

Valverde has never opened up about his involvement in Operacion Puerto or shown remorse for it. He has gone from strength to strength since his ban, which has made him one of the most divisive figures in the modern peloton.

Valverde raced Milano-Torino in Wednesday, in his second race in the rainbow jersey, and in the media mixed zone after the race Cyclingnews asked him about Operación Puerto.

"Operación Puerto is something I shouldn't be asked about," he said bluntly.

"That's water under the bridge, and I don't even want to talk about it. I believe I've sufficiently demonstrated who I am since then.

"Who asks me about Operación Puerto is clueless."

Asked about the rainbow jersey and how that makes him an important figure and symbol in the sport, he said: "That's for sure. Being world champion is important for whoever it might be."

Later in the brief post-race interview, Valverde was asked about his 'secret' to performing so well at the age of 38. He has won 62 races since returning from his ban, and since turning 35 he has been more prolific than ever, claiming 25 wins in the past two years alone, including the world title.

"The secret is enthusiasm. I love cycling," Valverde said.

"And then there's the quality - that's something you're born with - not something you can manufacture."

A favourite for Il Lombardia

Valverde raced in the world champion's jersey for the first time at the Tre Valli Varesine on Tuesday and doubled up with Milano-Torino on Wednesday as he continues his build up to Saturday's Il Lombardia, the final monument of the season.

After a relatively quiet outing on Tuesday, Valverde was a prominent force on Wednesday, ripping the race up with an attack on the first of the two key ascents of the Superga climb. He went on the move on the second ascent, too, and although he couldn't follow Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) or Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) in the final couple of kilometres, he still claimed a spot on the podium.

"Above all, what I wanted to find out here was how the sensations were, and the truth is that I felt very good," Valverde said. "In the end Pinot and Superman Lopez were better than me. I have to say congratulations to them, and that's it.

"I'd have liked to have won, clearly, but I spent too much energy on the first climb. I made efforts that then made it difficult to win the race. But I'm happy with third place."

For a rider who has enjoyed so much success both in the Ardennes classics, along with the Grand Tours, Il Lombardia is perhaps now the only obvious gap in Valverde's palmares.

He finished runner-up in 2013 and 2014, and in the top 10 in the following two editions, but he has never stood on the top step. Though celebrations and a number of sponsor commitments since his World Championship victory has made it difficult to train, Valverde's performances in the past couple of days will see him counted among the top contenders. 

"It's a race I like a lot. I've always been close to winning it but have never managed to pull it off," said Valverde, who likened the Muro di Sormano climb to the Höll climb that decided the Worlds.

"Why haven't I won it? Because winning is always very difficult. I've always been up there, very close, second, third, but winning is complicated."

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