Alejandro Valverde (Spain) has almost become the master of medalling in major competitions with six alone at the World Championships. Despite his prolific number of trips to the podium, he has not yet laid claim to an Olympic Games medal in three previous participations.
The 36-year-old is hoping to change that statistic in Saturday’s road race, but it is not just any medal that he wants. “The first place, that is clear,” he told Spanish newspaper AS of his target. “I already have a lot of podiums in Grand Tours and Classics but not an Olympic medal, which is the most prestigious in cycling. On a personal level, you keep that for the rest of your life.”
The Olympic road race is well suited to Valverde’s skillset as a strong climber with a decent sprint finish and he had regularly been named as the outright favourite for gold. Valverde has had a busy build-up to the Olympics with a third-place finish at the Giro d’Italia and sixth at last month’s Tour de France. He also competed at the Ardennes Classics, where he won La Fleche Wallonne. Valverde says that going into the Olympics as favourite makes things a little more challenging for him.
“It’s worse because the whole world will look to me to control it. To win as the favourite would be doubly as good,” he said. “Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez] will also have an important role. If we arrive in a group, I am quicker than Joaquim, but then he can go really well on sections of the climb. And to have three Movistar teammates supporting us is great.”
The Rio course is a mix of climbing, wide flat roads, and cobbled sectors, making for an intriguing day in the saddle and riders will have to have just a little bit of luck if they hope to take gold. “It is very tough, very hard. With the humidity and the heat it is going to be complicated. We will have to rely on having a good day.”
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