If Alejandro Valverde had caused a stir with his hint at a Tour of Flanders participation, the anticipation certainly hadn't dampened by the end of Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he placed 11th after animating the race.
The Spaniard is a four-time winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and five-time winner of La Flèche Wallonne, but he's inexperienced on the cobbles and bergs of the Flanders region of Belgium, and his presence at Dwars, nominally at least, was a learning exercise ahead of the Paris-Roubaix-inspired stage of this year's Tour de France.
However, he quickly became one of the most talked-about riders when he hinted on Belgian television on Tuesday evening that he could make a late change to his race programme and line up at De Ronde on Sunday.
In the end, the inexperience hardly showed as he rolled with the punches from some of the world's best classics riders and even threw some of his own. After making the first true selection with just over 50km to go, he finished in the second group on the road behind the four leaders.
"We did the best we could today. I had a problem with my bike and had to change bikes. But in the end, I'm happy with the race," Valverde said before being rushed to anti-doping.
As for Sunday: "We'll think about that later. At the moment I can't think."
After a lengthy spell at anti-doping, there was no time for Valverde to sign autographs or speak at more length at the Movistar bus, though team management were certainly encouraged by what they'd seen.
"This morning we were preaching a message of 'take it easy' – let the kilometres pass by and see how it's going. With the rain, it was a complicated day for him – rain affects him a lot and he doesn't go well," sports director José García Acosta told Cyclingnews.
"But the truth is he took it fully seriously, he got stuck into the race, as we saw. At the end of the day, he did a great race, even if it wasn't that demanding. It was only really the weather that added some difficulty, but it wasn't an especially exerting race."
Asked if he was surprised by Valverde's showing, he replied: "Surprise me? With Alejandro, nothing surprises me anymore."
The seasoned cobbled classics riders were certainly impressed, too.
"He made a good impression on me. He was with us after the Taaienberg and we went full gas on the Taaienberg," said race winner Yves Lampaert. "Then you know he's not here to train. He's one of the best riders of the last century. I really look up to him, he's always in attack mode. Respect for his performance today."
After a debrief this evening, the Tour of Flanders will be up for discussion, with team manager Eusebio Unzué to make the final call over the phone.
"We think it could be a good idea, sure," said Garcia Acosta. "At the end of the day, he's been going a long time and he has to do Flanders one day, that's for sure. I think he'd like to.
"It's complicated, though. You have to know the race very well. It's not like you can just say 'ah you, go to Flanders'. No, you have to know the race, where to be at every moment, where the sectors are. It's complicated to go there without knowing anything about it. It's a very different race to today. It's complicated – very complicated – to do well if you don't know about it. But we'll see what he says."
As for whether Valverde himself seems like he wants to do it: "He wants everything. He's in a state of grace. He would want to race here, there, everywhere. He's happy to be racing his bike, that's what he wants most."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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