Alejandro Valverde will take to the Vuelta a España start in Salinas de Torrevieja as a nominal co-leader of Movistar, but rather than mount an overall challenge, the 2009 winner will target stage victories at the year's final Grand Tour.
With reigning champion Simon Yates absent from the start list, Valverde's status as world champion means he'll wear the number one on his back. There's no pressure for him to fight for the top places in the general classification, however, even if he might end up there or thereabouts.
"The Vuelta is the race he likes the most, and if he gets results, great," Movistar directeur sportif José Luis Arrieta told Marca. "For Alejandro, what we would like is that he has a good time on the bike, especially this year with the [rainbow] jersey."
Perhaps more than any other team, Movistar have become known for bringing multiple leaders to Grand Tours and letting the road take care of things from there.
As they did at the past two editions of the Tour de France, the Spanish team has once again gone with three team leaders in the shape of Valverde, Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz, and 2016 Vuelta champion Nairo Quintana, with the latter two men both racing their final Grand Tour for the team before moving to Team Ineos and Arkéa-Samsic, respectively.
At the Tour, where Mikel Landa took Carapaz's place in the triumvirate, the plan was largely the same – for Valverde to target stage wins rather than ride for overall position. He ended up in ninth overall – his 18th Grand Tour top ten placing.
Arrieta conceded that it's tough for a rider of Valverde's quality to 'disconnect' from the general classification, citing the Tour as an example. The take is that, even if he wanted to, he couldn't concede time on purpose in order to focus on individual stage wins.
"It will be difficult for us to disconnect him from the general classification," said Arrieta. "At the Tour that was the idea, and at the end due to circumstances and because of his quality, he took a top ten.
"The stages will come on days when you arrive with a group of favourites. He doesn't have pressure to race to the stage final and that's that."
It was a sentiment echoed by fellow DS, Pablo Lastras – another ex-Movistar rider who once rode in service of Valverde for the Spanish team.
"Alejandro's objective will be to have a good time and win some stages, as he did in 2018," he told Marca. "The way he is, he will have a great Vuelta."
How Valverde's 'free role' at the race will work with the GC ambitions of Carapaz and Quintana is as yet unclear, though it's certain that the team will be looking to avoid a repeat of the confusion on the road at the Tour.
Arrieta added that Valverde's role will involve work for the team's GC duo, in combination with going for his own opportunities.
"If it's the case [that he can race to the stage finish], then he can go ahead," he said. "At other times he can support and that wouldn't be bad either. But Nairo and Carapaz are also working for the overall, so he will be more relaxed."
With his year in the rainbow jersey almost over, Valverde's quest for glory in what will be his last race before a defence of his title at the Yorkshire Worlds.
For the 39-year-old, a 2019 with four wins is something of a disappointment, compared to 14 last season. How his stage hunting will mesh with the ambitions of his co-leaders, though, remains to be seen.
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