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Unzué: ‘Valverde can race as long as he wants’

SABINANIGO, Spain (VN) — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) fell back to earth Saturday at the Vuelta a España, dropping from third to 19th in the overall standings, but inside the Movistar bus, he remains a legend.

According to Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué, Valverde’s GC demise was not a surprise.

“Already [Friday] he finished the stage very tired and was wondering how much longer he could hang on,” Unzué said moments before Sunday’s start. “When you look at the season he’s had, from the Giro, to the Tour and the Olympics, it is no surprise what happened. The surprise was that he was as good for as long as he was.”

Unzué had nothing but words of praise for the 36-year-old Valverde, and confirmed that the veteran Spaniard has an open invitation at Movistar.

“He has a contract for next season, and he can race as long as he wants,” said Unzué, who would not confirm rumors that Valverde has signed a contract through 2019. “Alejandro just keeps getting better with age.”

Riding into podium position into the third week of his third grand tour of 2016 (his fifth straight going back to the 2015 Tour de France) was beyond expectations, even by Valverde standards.

Midway through Saturday’s four-climb stage 14 across the Pyrénées, however, he dropped off the back of the GC group and ultimately gave up more than ten minutes to his race-leading teammate Nairo Quintana.

“For me, it wasn’t a surprise about what happened,” Valverde said of Saturday’s stage. “It was a very hard day, and you could either be good or bad. I didn’t feel good on the final climb, and I couldn’t maintain the rhythm, so I went at my own pace.

“What’s important is that Nairo is still the leader, and we have to be on form for him,” Valverde said. “We have to keep doing what we’ve done since the start of the race.”

When asked how losing Valverde’s third-place GC position would impact the GC dynamics, Unzué said the plotlines are clear.

“This Vuelta is a duel between Froome and Nairo,” Unzué said. “Sure, losing Alejandro in third place means will have to be more vigilant of the Orica riders, but the GC is being fought out between Nairo and Chris Froome.”

Only a few minutes later, Quintana would follow a stage 15 move by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) that looked to dramatically alter the Vuelta GC picture.

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