Alejandro Valverde says that he is determined to regain the world number one position that he held when he started his ban in May last year for involvement in the Operacion Puerto affair. Although the 30-year-old Spaniard is banned from competition until 1 January 2012, he has also revealed that he is still training hard to such an extent that he is going close to his personal best marks on climbs near his home in Murcia.
Speaking to Meta2Mil, Valverde reveals that he is only 2.5kg over his optimum racing weight of 61kg, despite a seven-month lay-off from racing. “I’ve been lucky enough to be able to count on a fantastic group of training partners and that has made this much easier,” Valverde explained.
“If I had to train alone every day the ban would certainly be much more difficult to deal with. But I am training every day with the likes of Fran Pérez, Luis León Sánchez and José Joaquín Rojas, as well as with a few amateur riders. Being able to count on this kind of company is the best way of keeping your head straight,” said the Spaniard.
Valverde insists that he will be an even better rider when he returns to racing in 2012, and says he has no doubt he will be competing with the best again. “When they stopped me I was leader in the UCI world rankings and I will be so again. Once the first three or four months have passed [after the ban] I am sure that the best of Alejandro Valverde will be on show again,” he said.
Valverde confirmed the rumours that his current training times are as good as they have ever been. “I’ve been testing myself on the Sierra Espuña, which is the first part of the Collado Bermejo [near Murcia]. It’s a 9km climb and my best time is 17mins 15secs in the days before the 2005 Tour de France. At the end of 2010 I clocked under 17-30, so I was very close to my best times, which is a good sign looking to the future,” he said.
Valverde believes his victory in the 2009 Vuelta a España helped him to break a mental barrier by taking his first grand tour title. Although he was unable to put that new-found confidence to the test in a grand tour in 2010, he says that his successes at last year’s Le Tour Méditerranéen and Tour of Romandie showed that he is still improving.
“I managed to win them both in very bad weather conditions," he said. "When I realised that I could still manage to win in such intense cold I felt that I was never going to have problems with cold and wet days again, and those have always been two things that I have struggled with in the past.”
He is refusing to be drawn on his likely team in 2012, but indicates that his former Caisse d’Epargne boss Eusebio Unzue, who heads the team now backed by Movistar, is likely to get first refusal on his services. “Eusebio has always treated me very well and it would be normal for me to ride with them,” he says. “But I will have to wait, see what offers come in and also see whether Eusebio is still interested in me.”