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Valverde off to flying start in Vuelta a Andalucia

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Alejandro Valverde is honored as the first race leader.

Alejandro Valverde is honored as the first race leader. (Image credit: Alberto Brevers)
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A young Valverde fan with his proud mother standing behind him

A young Valverde fan with his proud mother standing behind him (Image credit: Ruta de Sol a Sol)
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Alejandro Valverde hugs Javi Moreno right after finishing the race

Alejandro Valverde hugs Javi Moreno right after finishing the race (Image credit: Alberto Brevers)

For the third year in a row, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) looks to be in very strong form as he starts the season, taking a knock-out victory on Wednesday in the prologue of the Vuelta a Andalucia.

Last year's prologue victory for Valverde, in the same race, was followed up by both a stage victory and his second outright triumph in Andalucia in two years.

It all seemed so promising. But then after four wins in February 2013 alone, for the remainder of the season, Valverde garnered a series of top results - second in Amstel Gold, the Clásica San Sebastian and the Giro de Lombardia, third in the Vuelta, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the World Championships, to name but a few -  but no victories. For a rider who was once known as El imbatible - Mr. Unbeatable - that was surprising.

What can Movistar do, then, to prevent history from repeating itself for their co-leader in 2014 and for Valverde to go on scoring goals in the rest of the match, to use a football metaphor, rather than hitting the goalposts so often?

"The most important and the most difficult thing to do is to be in a position where you can keep on hitting the goalposts, as you call it," Eusebio Unzué told Cyclingnews as he leaned on the barriers keeping the fans back from the winner’s podium in Almería and watched Valverde, now in his 14th year as a pro, don the leader's jersey.

With consistency undoubtedly one of Valverde's strongest suits, Unzué believes that "very often it's just a slightest little bit of luck that could have made the difference. In Alejandro's case, that was all that stood between him and three or four really big wins last year."

Wednesday's win, albeit on a much lesser scale, was a case in point. "This time trial was very, very technical. We knew that top time triallists like [Bradley] Wiggins (Sky) would have a tough time on it because there were so many radical changes of pace and it was not for real time trial experts, so a rider like Alejandro, given he's in good shape anyhow, was always going to do well."

With seven out of the eight top places in Wednesday's prologue occupied by Sky and Movistar riders - fourth through to seventh for the British team, first, second and eighth for the Spanish squad - it is tempting to imagine a repeat scenario of 2013, where the two teams were battling for the number one spot overall in the UCI WorldTour right up until the Tour of Beijing.

"It's not as simple as that," Unzué objects. "Sky, for sure, are going to have a big impact on the season, and they will be as strong in some races like the Grand Tours, as they have been in other years. At the same time, we've got a really good squad, and we'll be battling them all the way."

As for Valverde, himself, the Spaniard was cautious about his chances of holding the leader's jersey all the way through to the finish in Fuengirola on Sunday.

"This was a very technical course, lots of accelerating and braking and that's the kind of course that suits me," Valverde told Cyclingnews, "but I have no idea how long I can hold on to the lead."

"For the moment I've got the jersey and I'm very pleased with that." And given it follows Nairo Quintana's victory in the Tour of San Luis, nobody could argue that for now at least, both Movistar's top riders are in top form. Who ends up being the team’s best goal scorer of 2014, though, can only be resolved come October.

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.