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Only Tadej Pogačar can deny Alejandro Valverde at Strade Bianche

'It was as if I had won today' — Valverde continues strong start to his retirement season.

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SIENA, Italy (VN) — Only a superb Tadej Pogačar could deny Alejandro Valverde at Strade Bianche.

The 41-year-old Movistar rider celebrated his second place podium finish in the Tuscan classic as if it were victory. In many ways, it’s about as close as anyone can get to the winner’s podium these days when the Slovenian slayer is in the field.

“It’s almost like a victory,” Valverde said. “After such a hard day. It was a great work by the team, so to finish second was not something we were expecting.”

Valverde continues to shine in the opening races of his farewell season. The Spanish star lined up Saturday as a favorite behind Pogačar hot off winning Gran Camino in Spain.

“A podium here has a very special flavor for a race that’s very beautiful to me, where I’ve been three times on the podium, and the most special one was today,” Valverde said. “It was a complicated day.”

Valverde crashed in the same pile-up that took out Pogačar early in the race, and Movistar worked to bring him back into a good position going into the decisive moments of the race.

“I fell in the same incident where Pogačar and others went down,” he said. “It took me a while to get back on the bike, and it was difficult to get going again. The work of the team was phenomenal and I never expected to be so good in the end.”

‘It’s been an incredible year so far’ — Valverde flying early in retirement season

Valverde celebrates the podium as if it were a victory in his final Strade Bianche.

Valverde followed a key chase group in pursuit of Pogačar after the UAE Emirates star dropped everyone with about 50km to go.

“I was about on the 10th wheel when he jumped, so it was impossible to follow him,” Valverde said. “He attacked very strong, so I’m very happy to finish off like I did. It’s almost as if I had won today.”

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) and joined up the chase. Valverde was marking the wheels while Simmons was pulling hard to limit the damage, and Asgreen

“I really didn’t think we could catch him,” he said. “Once he got his gap, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to catch him. He could really manage the pace, and there wasn’t a flat kilometer of road.”

For Valverde, who races next at the Volta a Catalunya, every race is part of his long goodbye.

“It’s really been an incredible year so far, very special, and things are going very well,” Valverde said. “I had very good sensations today, and just like every other race, I want to thank the team for all the work they did. I could get back into the race, enter the decisive chase group, and later end up second.”