Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has made it clear in an extensive interview with Spanish newspaper AS that he will continue to aim for the Tour de France podium and the World Championships rainbow jersey until the end of his career.
"They are the two main objectives, I will go on hunting for them until I retire," Valverde, who recently re-signed with Movistar until 2017, told AS in his first big interview of 2015.
The 34-year-old currently holds the record for podium finishes in the Worlds roadrace - six since 2003, the first a silver in Hamilton, the most recent being a bronze in Ponferrada - but has never taken gold. In the Tour, although his first breakthrough result was a stage win in 2005 in the Alps and he led the race in 2008, Valverde has been plagued by bad luck and crashes almost every July. His career best has, so far, been fourth overall - in 2014, when he was squeezed off the podium, after a lengthy struggle through the Pyrenees, by France’s Jean Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot in the final week.
Assuming Movistar back Valverde’s determination to have one or several more cracks at the Tour’s podium as he moves into his mid and late thirties, it means the Spanish team will field two leaders for July, Valverde and Nairo Quintana. The idea that Valverde would work for Quintana this summer, as had been speculated upon in some quarters, would, therefore, be definitively shelved for at least one more year, possibly more.
Speaking in November, Valverde insisted he would be there "100 percent" for Quintana, whilst not ruling out his own chances. "Nairo is perfectly capable of winning the Tour," Valverde said at the time. "I can be close, but it can be more complicated, and that is why I am realistic. At the Tour, I will be there 100 per cent for Nairo, accompany him to the end and stick together to have an advantage over our rivals."
The last time Movistar raced with both Valverde and Quintana in the Tour was in 2013.Valverde started strongly and was lying second overall behind Chris Froome when the race left the Pyrenees, but a mechanical incident saw all his GC chances go up in smoke. At the same time Quintana punched well above his weight in his debut Tour and became the first rider since Eddy Merckx to claim a podium place - second overall - as well as the King of the Mountains prize and the Best Young Riders prize all in one fell swoop. Last year Quintana then went on to become Colombia’s first ever winner of the Giro, before crashing out of the Vuelta - where Valverde took over as sole Movistar leader and finished third overall.
Asked by AS if he had become overly obsessed with the Grande Boucle, Valverde argued that he had "never given up on racing other events just to go for the Tour. I’ve won Classics, week-long stage races, everything. I’ve acted correctly. And if I had focused specifically on the Classics? Maybe they wouldnt’ have been so good. Even so, I’ve captured Fleche, Liege, San Sebastian, I’ve been on the podium of [the Tour of] Lombardy. The Tour isn’t as suited to me as I would like, but I’m happy."
If Valverde does not wish to take a back seat in the Tour despite his frustrating near-miss of the podium last July, and also says he would love - finally - to make his debut in the Giro d’Italia one day, the Spaniard remains equally ambitious about going for the equally elusive gold in the World’s. He is just as unhappy, too, about the criticism he has had to face over the World’s in the past, particularly in 2013 where his missing a chance to chase down Portugal’s Rui Costa arguably cost Spain its first rainbow jersey in nine years.
"That’s where the criticism I’ve had to face hurt the worst. It feels like I made mistakes on purpose, and nothing could be further from the truth," Valverde told AS. He believed, he said, that "my mistakes are more visible because I’ve been in a position to win, not in 110th place."
Valverde forms part of a gilded generation of riders in Spain, who in the last 11 years have won every major race barring the two top cobbled Classics and the Worlds Time Trial title. According to AS, Valverde argues that he deserves a prominent place amongst them.
Asked by the newspaper who was the best Spanish rider of his generation, Valverde said, "I admire Alberto [Contador], Purito [Rodriguez], [Oscar] Freire, Samuel [Sanchez] a lot…but I’d put myself down [as the best] and that’s all there is to it."