ALHAURIN DE LA TORRE, Spain (VN) — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won more than just his 10th career Vuelta a España stage Sunday. The veteran Spaniard presented his credentials as a top favorite for the upcoming road cycling world championships.
The 38-year-old blasted up the short kicker Sunday at Caminito del Rey to reel in the attacking Laurens De Plus (Quick Step) and fend off Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) in such convincing fashion that many already see him as one of the Innsbruck favorites.
His exquisite victory and apparently solid form also present a bit of a quandary.
Valverde came to the Vuelta openly stating he was not racing for the overall classification. Yet after winning so impressively Sunday, he’s not quite closing the door on the GC, either.
Vuelta or worlds? Valverde isn’t ready to give up one for the other, at least not yet.
“I am not counting anything out, but I am not going to say I am here to fight for the GC because it’s not true,” Valverde said. “I am not feeling bad right now but to say I am going to win the Vuelta is a bit of a stretch. What I am not going to do is suffer to finish eighth overall. If I see myself up there, I will stay in the fight and try not to lose time, but if not, I will start thinking about the worlds.”
Valverde has already won one Vuelta — all the way back in 2009 just ahead of his doping ban — but he’s never won the world title. Spain’s “Green Bullet” holds a record six world road cycling championship medals (two silvers, four bronzes) and he desperately wants the rainbow jersey.
This year’s climb-heavy worlds course in Innsbruck presents his best and perhaps last chance.
Movistar, however, won’t want to see Valverde solely use the Vuelta as a three-week training camp for Austria. The WorldTour team pays his annual multi-million-euro salary and team brass will want to keep Valverde in strong position on the overall just in case something happens to designated GC captain Nairo Quintana.
Movistar also wants to see Valverde perform well in Austria. The worry is that if Valverde fights all the way to Madrid, he likely would be too weary for Innsbruck. But they don’t want to hold Valverde back if they see a chance to put him on the Vuelta’s final podium in Madrid. The team is hoping to find the right balance.
Spain’s national coach Javier Minguez said Valverde would be better off forgetting about the Vuelta GC, but added he is not going to put pressure on Valverde to save himself for Austria.
“Alejandro told me himself he’s not racing for GC here,” Minguez told Marca. “If Valverde wants to ‘score the corner goal and win,’ he’s wrong. But if a stage win helps his morale, fine. If he can take the jersey on time bonuses, OK, great. But it will be something else if he tries to defend it against the heat of the Vuelta and the pressure of the public. I am not going to get involved. The only day I can give tactical advice is on September 30. Everything else is up to his team and his trainers.”
Valverde and with the Izagirre brothers are expected to lead Spain’s always strong lineup for the road worlds. With a challenging route that includes intense climbing and harrowing descents, Innsbruck will give the climbers their first real chance at the world title in years.
“The Tour didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but the worlds is another big chance for me,” Valverde said. “The leader here is Nairo and I will help him if he needs it. Winning the stage is a big boost for what lies ahead.”
Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) saw just how strong Valverde is right now when he tried to follow his wheel Sunday in the final charge to the line at Caminito del Rey.
“Alejandro was impressive and he will be a big favorite for the worlds,” Kwiatkowski said. “My worlds? Ask me in Madrid. I want to see how far I can go in this Vuelta in the GC.”