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Giro d'Italia

Valverde hits Giro podium to complete cycle

In closing out the 2016 Giro d'Italia third overall, Alejandro Valverde now counts podium finishes in all three grand tours

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TORINO, Italy (VN) — It wasn’t pretty, but Alejandro Valverde pulled it off, scraping his way onto the Giro d’Italia podium Saturday the old-fashioned way.

The 36-year-old Movistar rider lost all hope of victory with one bad day in the Dolomites, but he kept plugging away, first with a solid time trial up Alpe di Siusi, then a stage victory the next day in Andalo, and finally with a scrappy mix of determination, strength, solid teamwork, and experience in the final few stages of the race. On Sunday, he climbed onto the overall podium in third place at 1:17 behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), giving the Spaniard podium places and stage victories in all three grand tours.

“You could tell by the way I reacted it was if I won the Giro itself,” said Valverde, commenting on his celebration once his third-place was confirmed at the line Saturday. “It’s nothing short of incredible. To be on the podiums in all three grand tours is a phenomenal achievement for me.”

Valverde lined up as one of the top favorites for victory in this Giro, but Movistar insisted that the pre-race goals were a stage victory and a spot on the podium. In that sense, it’s mission accomplished.

At 36, Valverde seems to get better with age. He started his career as a Peter Sagan-like all-rounder, capable of winning bunch sprints, attacking in breakaways, and shining on punchy, explosive finales. Never a great time trialist or a pure climber, Valverde won on class.

Links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal will forever put an asterisk next to his palmares, but Valverde has only gotten better since his return in 2012. Many of his career highlights have come following his two-year ban, including supremacy in the Ardennes classics, a third-place Tour de France podium last year, and this year’s Giro podium in his first crack at the Italian grand tour.

Valverde will return to the Tour de France in July, but he promises to fully back teammate Nairo Quintana in the Colombian’s push for the yellow jersey. Much like Nibali, Valverde said he will use the Tour as a trampoline for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games, one of the few cycling accolades that has eluded him so far.

“I consider myself a good cyclist, who gives everything of myself for my team and my fans,” Valverde said. “Nibali deserves the victory. I was stronger than he was on certain days, but he beat me in others. Stepping onto this podium in Torino with my kids will be a massive satisfaction.”

With a contract through 2017, Valverde promises to keep on truckin’.

Highlights from Valverde’s palmares:

2009 Vuelta a España
Four wins at La Flèche Wallonne
Three wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Two titles at the Critérium du Dauphiné
14 career grand tour stage victories (9x Vuelta, 4x Tour, 1x Giro)
Four times WorldTour/ProTour season points champion (2006, 2008, 2014, 2015)
Podiums in all three grand tours (6x Vuelta, 2015 Tour 3rd, 2016 Giro 3rd)
Six career world championship medals (two silver, four bronze)