ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Spaniard Alejandro Valverde “has the legs” to win in the Ardennes classics in two months despite a Tour de France leg fracture last summer.
[related title=”More on Alejandro Valverde” align=”right” tag=”Alejandro-Valverde”]
Movistar’s Valverde shattered his left knee and part of his ankle when he flew at high-speed into the barriers on stage 1 of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf. For the 37-year-old, it could have been career-ending.
Now, however, the team says he is ready to add to his trophy case in the Ardennes classics after starting his season with two stage wins and the overall in the Volta Valenciana.
“I’m surprised to be back so quickly, but I feel just as good as last year,” Valverde said. “I’ve never felt so good. I think I still have the legs to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège again.”
The Ardennes classics start with the Amstel Gold Race on April 15 and continue with the Flèche Wallonne on April 18 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 22.
Movistar is circling its wagons around Valverde, who has been a pillar of the team since 2005.
“He should be fine, this is Alejandro, and he should be ready in time for April,” sports director José García Acosta told VeloNews.
“We are not worried for the classics if Alejandro is going well, and he looks to be, then we should be fine.”
Valverde’s season ended when he crashed July 1. After emergency surgery, he returned to Spain to begin the long recovery process.
“He worked so much, he worked hard. He was dedicated and in the end, this is Alejandro who we are talking about. He never stops surprising,” added José García Acosta
“He always has energy, he’s always good. He’s still here, he loves cycling. He’s going like a young rider.”
Valverde has an impressive record in the late-April Ardennes classics. Despite a doping ban due to Operación Puerto that saw him sit out, he managed to collect five wins in Flèche Wallonne and four in Liège-Bastogne-Liège over the years. He won them both in 2017.
He battled younger cyclists like Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky). Now, he must face them and manage a left leg that still shows the scars from Düsseldorf.
“It was a really serious injury, but he worked hard in the last months after the crash. Now he is recovered well,” teammate Victor De La Parte said.
“I think that this year, if possible, he’s almost stronger than he was. He is here with more ambition, and I think we are seeing the best Alejandro.”
“He’s recovered from the Tour de France crash, the fractures,” added José García Acosta. “He’s good, slowly returning, but he’s making the right steps.
“He’s a good example, for training and racing, for everyone in the team. He had serious fractures, but the desire to return.”
Asked how long Valverde could continue racing beyond 2018, José García Acosta laughed, “He could keep going until he’s 50! He’s good, but he’s not a machine, so he will keep going for as long as his body allows him.”
Movistar has options if Valverde cannot maintain the consistent form that carried him to wins in the Ardennes classics and third overall in the Giro d’Italia in 2016. New hire Mikel Landa and Marc Soler will ride alongside Valverde.