Any doubts about Alejandro Valverde's continuing enthusiasm for racing after six months of recovering from a crash at the Tour de France will surely evaporate now that his programme for the 2018 season has been revealed.
The Movistar veteran says he plans to race from January through to October, starting with the Mallorca Challenge and finishing at Il Lombardia, taking on the Ardennes Classics, the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España and the World Championships. At 37, and following a serious injury last July at the Tour, that’s quite a schedule.
"I'll do a couple of days in Mallorca, then Valencia, Murcia, Abu Dhabi or Andalucia – in principle, I'm not doing Andalucia, but I'm hoping I will go in the end, because I like it a lot," Valverde told a small group of reporters at the Vuelta a España presentation on Saturday.
"Then maybe Strade Bianche, the Volta a Catalunya, the Ardennes, the Dauphiné, the Tour, San Sebastian, the Vuelta a España and Il Lombardia."
The big question mark, Valverde said, is whether his condition will be as good as it was before he wrecked one of his kneecaps in a highspeed crash on the opening day of the 2017 Tour de France.
"I'm feeling fine, but you never know until you race," Valverde said. "I trained hard this winter to see what my maximum peak of form could be and I deliberately eased back afterwards. Although I'm coming back up again, I'm not as good as I was this winter yet. But that's the plan, I didn't want to be in 100 per cent condition so early in the season."
While Valverde's participation in Spain's most venerable early-season race – the Vuelta a Andalucia, which he's won five times in the last six years – is uncertain, and he won't be racing as defending champion in the Vuelta al País Vasco, his calendar still looks as busy as ever.
And although he has won stages and finished on the podium in all three Grand Tours, Valverde said he would be delighted at the prospect of returning to the Vuelta a España, which he won in 2009 and where he took six podium finishes from 11 starts.
"I really liked the Giro d'Italia but the way the team has planned out the year means that I'm going to be in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España," Valverde said.
There’s also the question of the World Championships, where Valverde is keen to battle for Spain's first rainbow jersey since Oscar Freire way back in 2004. Indeed, the Spaniard insisted on keeping his options open regarding the Vuelta a España, with a view to arriving on form for a Worlds road race in Innsbruck that suits him better than perhaps any since Firenze in 2013.
"It's a very good route for me, but let's see if I can get there in top condition. We also have to see how I tackle the Vuelta, whether I'm going for GC or simply preparing for the Worlds," he said.
"I don't know if I'll be the team leader. Mikel [Landa] should be going very well and we'll see how it works out."
As for the Vuelta route, quite apart from a stage through his home region of Murcia, Valverde said that he was glad to have an individual time trial to start the race – “It's much less stressful than a team time trial" – and added that he expected the opening summit finish at Caminito del Rey on stage 2 "to start to show what's what. And that last mountain stage in Andorra will be painful."
Valverde was glad, too, of the lack of lengthy time trials, saying. "I'm fine with any distance up to 35 kilometres." The Vuelta's longest race against the clock is the 32.7km test in Torrelavega on stage 16.
The first objective for Valverde this season, however, is to see how he feels on the bike after such a long period without racing. As the man from Murcia put it, "I’m getting there, I know I am, but I really want to see how things feels when I'm actually racing."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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