Valverde plays down overall chances at Vuelta a Espana

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has played down the chances of a strong GC performance in the Vuelta a España despite claims from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) that Valverde is on a level pegging with the main overall favourites.

Contador has argued during the build-up to the Vuelta that the race route – with ten summit finishes but few full-on mountain stages, and bonus seconds throughout – is most suited to Valverde. Also, together with Contador himself, Valverde is the only other former winner of the Vuelta present on the start line in Ourense.

In L’Equipe’s pre-race ranking of each favourite on Saturday, meanwhile, Valverde gets three stars out of a possible six, the same as Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange). For the record, Contador and Chris Froome (Sky) get five out of six, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) four, Chaves and Valverde three, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Louis Meintjes (Lampre) two, and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), and Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) one each.

Experience is certainly on Valverde’s side. Since 2003, his worst placing in the Vuelta is seventh overall last year, when he also won the points jersey and a stage after racing the Tour de France full on to secure a podium position in Paris. Valverde won the Vuelta in 2009 and has finished on the podium a further five times.

Valverde told the Spanish news agency EFE that he is “not racing with any ambition for the overall, with no kind of pressure and that obviously makes me feel more relaxed.”

However, it seems that almost despite himself, Valverde has not completely ruled out going for the GC, either. At the Tour, after all, Valverde was supposedly not a contender for a high overall finish, yet he ended up sixth, following his third place finish at his first ever Giro d’Italia.

As Valverde put it in a rather ambiguous statement of intent, not racing for the GC, “doesn’t rule out that I work for what’s best for the team overall, above all for Nairo Quintana, who’s in very good shape.”

As for getting a top ten placing overall in a third Grand Tour in the same season – a feat only pulled off previously twice, by Raphael Geminiani and Gastone Nencini – Valverde was cautious. “Athough the idea isn’t to go for the overall, we’ll see how the race plays out,” he said.

“For me, a stage win would be more important than getting in the top ten overall, but let’s see how my body reacts to a third Grand Tour. It’s the third major Tour in four months and the fifth in twelve months if you add in the Tour and Vuelta of last year.”

After the Tour, Valverde placed third in the Clásica San Sebastian prior to a low-key performance at the Rio Olympics road race, where he worked for team-mate Joaquim Rodriguez.

“I have been training very steadily in the last couple of weeks,” Valverde said. “I really wanted to do the Vuelta, for me it’s a personal challenge. It would have been very hard not to do it. Although i’m feeling a bit tired, I like the Vuelta and I am full of optimism about my chances here.”

Valverde will expect to be in the mix on Monday’s summit finish on the Ezaro. In 2012, when the race first tackled the climb, Valverde finished third, 13 seconds behind winner Joaquim Rodriguez.

As for the future, meanwhile, Valverde maintains that he is still a long way from hanging up his wheels, with his retirement only pencilled in for when he turns 39.

“I think that’s my limit,” said Valverde, now 36 and in the sixteenth year of his professional career. “For the moment continuing to race as a pro doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything, but mentally it’s tiring. My head’s more tired than my body.”

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.