Starting Thursday’s 12th stage 17th overall at 3:43 back, the Spanish veteran is further back than he usually is this deep into the race.
Valverde has the engine to stay in the thick of things sometimes without even wanting to be there. That’s not the story this year. He’s struggled to match the best climbers, and has ceded time on key stages.
“We’re surviving and getting through these stages,” Valverde said Thursday at the start. “The legs are starting to feel better. Let’s see if we can move up a little bit more.”
Valverde admits he is one of those riders who prefers racing more than training to sharpen his form before arriving to the Tour. And this year, rather than riding for a high position on GC, Valverde is helping the team’s rising star Enric Mas, 25, learn ins and outs of the sport’s biggest race.
“I am not let down at all by where I am in this Tour,” Valverde said with a shrug. “Our goal is to push [Enric] Mas as high as we can in the GC. If I can be in position to perhaps win a stage, that would be great.”
At 40, Valverde is the oldest rider in this year’s Tour. After leaving Nice, he’s midway through his 13th Tour. For years the 2018 world champion long had a love/hate relationship with the race. Early in his career, he won his first stage in the mountains against Lance Armstrong in the 2005 Tour.
Another stage win came in 2008, but he could never deliver on his GC promise at the Tour. After he got tangled up in the “Operation Puerto” scandal in 2010, Valverde returned to the top of the peloton. He was third overall in 2015, but overall victory continually eluded him.
Some fans hate him, while others admire his passion for the game. Valverde will never make the haters happy, because he’s never really told the full story of what happened in the Puerto affair. Fans admire his racing acumen and dogged persistence.
Insiders at Movistar say Valverde simply loves to race his bike. Fiercely competitive, Valverde will try to surge into the frame at some point during this Tour.
He’s been incredibly consistent over three weeks throughout his career. In 27 grand tour starts since 2002, he’s finish in the top-5 on 13 occasions. He’s had four DNF’s during that long run, and won the 2009 Vuelta a España.
In the 15 grand tours since the 2012 Vuelta, he’s finished in the top-10 in all of them except three. He made “peace” with the Tour in 2015 when he rode to third overall, and later reached the podium in all three grand tours with third in the 2016 Giro d’Italia.
This year, Valverde’s punch isn’t quite like we’ve seen the past few years.
Valverde has a contract through 2021, and vows to race the Tokyo Games next season.
Could this be Valverde’s last Tour? He’s been ambiguous about his Tour future. Some days he said he might not race the Tour next year to prepare for the Olympics. Another day he said he wants to keep racing perhaps into 2022.
“We’ll see what happens,” Valverde said about the future. “The most important thing is to get through this race in a good way.”
It seems to depend on his mood. If this Tour ends up well for Valverde, he might be back for another “big loop” around France.