Valverde switches gears and heads to Belgium ahead of Tour of Flanders debut

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has flown into Belgium after the Volta a Catalunya, ready to change gears and get into Classics mode ahead of his Tour of Flanders debut on Sunday.

The world champion, while a prolific winner in the Ardennes Classics, has precious little experience of the cobbled races of northern Belgium but displayed his potential 12 months ago with a quality ride at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Excitement over a possible last-minute entry to Flanders went unfulfilled but, one year on, it's finally happening. The 38-year-old arrived on Tuesday and will race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ahead of the big Flanders debut on Sunday.

"It's a race he has always wanted to do, one he has a lot of respect for," Movistar director José Vicente García Acosta told Cyclingnews.

"He raced Dwars door Vlaanderen last year and did very well and was happy with it. But that's not the same as the Ronde. So, we proceed with caution, take it easy, and see how he goes. Flanders, we assume he should be good there, but that's not to say we have clear expectations."

While Valverde brushed aside a number of question marks over his aptitude for the cobbled Classics at Dwars last year – including his inexperience and the cold, wet conditions – there are some minor doubts about the one commodity that never seems in short supply: form.

He has had a good start to the season by anyone's standards, but he hasn't been as prolific as he has in the past three years. His only win has been a stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour and, while he finished second overall there and in Valencia, he won them both last year. He ‘only’ finished 10th overall at last week’s Volta a Catalunya, a race he won in the two previous years, with two and three stage wins, respectively.

"He's going well. OK, maybe he's not quite as strong as in previous years, but that's because he's going to the Giro d'Italia," said Acosta. "He's a little bit behind where he usually is because of that. But he's going well. He's always going well."

This week, Valverde will link up with Jurgen Roelandts, the Belgian Classics specialist who joined Movistar at the start of the year.

"We've done some races together, he's a natural leader and I look forward to racing in Belgium with him. I'll try and give him some tips about the key points of the race," Roelandts told Cyclingnews.

"It's the first time for him that he’ll do Flanders, so I'm curious, yeah, to see how he goes on these roads. He's very talented and always in the front, so I think he will be good."

Remembering Dwars last year, he added: "It was not his weather actually, it was cold and rainy and still he was in the front, and I was not in the front, so he did a good job."

Roelandts added that one of the most important ingredients needed for Flanders success is to "feel the race". Some say that can only be built up over time, but when asked if it was something that came more naturally to Valverde, Roelandts said: "That’s obvious."

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