After a difficult 2020 campaign, Valverde seemed to dismiss any notion of extending his career beyond his current contract into 2022. However, he has never quite closed the door completely and nudged it ajar atop the Mur de Huy on Wednesday.
This spring had been billed as the 40-year-old’s last Classics campaign but, 15 years on from the first of his five wins at a Flèche Wallonne, that’s not looking so certain anymore.
“I don’t know if that was my last Flèche Wallonne or if I’ll carry on another year,” Valverde said.
“Last year, I was saying no, but this year I’ve got great feelings again, so it’s not clear if I’ll stop or carry on.”
After a winless 2020, Valverde has found his way again this season. He started out quietly but then placed fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya and seventh at Itzulia Basque Country, either side of a win at the one-day GP Indurain, where he went clear on a steep late climb similar to the Mur de Huy.
Fifth place at Amstel Gold Race preceded La Flèche Wallonne, which he won for the first time in 2006 and then four years in a row from 2014 to 2017. Few would have predicted it at the start of the year but it is perhaps a measure of how good Valverde is feeling that he was disappointed to be back on the podium.
“I was swamped by a lot of riders and it was quite dangerous, so I started the climb very badly positioned,” said a rueful Valverde, without admitting that he moved up on the footpath alongside the road.
“I knew I had to be up there in a good position but that wasn’t possible. In the end I had to work my way up here and there and made a big effort to do so. I was third, and I’m happy, but I think I had the legs to be a bit further up at the end."
Valverde was on Alaphilippe’s wheel by the time Primož Roglič launched an early attack 350 metres from the top. Although he initially went with the world champion, riding away from the likes of Tom Pidcock, he couldn’t hold the pace and had to settle for third a few seconds back.
“They [Alaphilippe and Roglič] are both very strong and I have to congratulate them, but for sure the big effort I had to make to get back up to them in the first place was what I was lacking in the end,” he said.
Valverde will now turn his attention to Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, when he'll be celebrating his 41st birthday. With age seemingly not catching up with him after all, a fifth title at La Doyenne is far from out of the question.
"This gives me great motivation," he said.
"I know I'm in good shape and now Liège is a different race. It's not so much about positioning, it's about your form, and form is clearly something I have."
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