Alejandro Valverde has confirmed that he will be Spain’s leader for the men’s road-race on Sunday in the World Championships, but he says he does not rule out a “change of plans mid-race”. The 34-year-old has also roundly rejected the possibility that he has a difficult relationship with Joaquim Rodriguez, Spain’s ‘Plan B’.
There was uproar in the Spanish media last year when Rodriguez and Valverde took silver and bronze in last year’s Worlds - after Valverde failed to react quickly enough when Portuguese rider Rui Costa first chased down Rodriguez and then snatched the gold. Rodriguez claimed silver, but he was in tears on the podium as the realisation of how close he had been to taking gold sunk in.
Speaking in a press conference on Thursday, Valverde dismissed the idea that any antagonism between the two Spanish leaders still lingered. Instead, he said that he viewed Rodriguez as an ideal second option for Spain should he not feel at 100 percent in the Worlds.
“At the end of the day, I always get all the criticism, even when I win,” Valverde said, “and that’seven more the case in the Worlds. I’m here as a leader, but we’ll have to see how things go in the race.”
“There are other riders who are racing well, like Purito [Rodriguez], and that’s a solid guarantee [of team strength].”
“So we’re racing with one initial strategy planned out, but that can change.”
Asked about what had happened in the World’s last year, Valverde answered “they’ve asked me a lot of times about that, but it’s in the past, and now I’m thinking about the present.”
During the final countdown to Sunday, Valverde may well also be thinking about his five medals in the World Championships, none of them gold, since he took silver behind Spanish teammate Igor Astarloa back in 2003. But he refuted any idea of a behind-the-scenes conflict in the Spanish selection.
“This is a national team. We’re rivals in other races, but this is the Spanish team and the objective is to win a medal. If I start as leader and then in the race others are racing better than me, then we can change plans.”
“Joaquim has come out of the Worlds with good form and we can change roles if it’s needed.”
As for the Ponferrada circuit, Valverde said “I’d have preferred a tougher finale. But in any case from 200 kilometres onwards, the race will be tough for everybody.”
In any case, Valverde does not believe that Ponferrada is his last chance of World’s success. “I’ve just signed for another three years with Movistar, I’ll be around for a while yet. My body will start to show signs of general wear and tear at some point, but for now I’m going to go on fighting.”
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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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