Valverde aiming high for 2018 after gruesome Tour de France crash

The Spaniard though his career was over when he smashed his knee into a metal barrier, but the surgically repaired joint is holding up.

PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — For 2018, Alejandro Valverde is hoping he can pick up right where he left off. That’s asking a lot considering his nasty crash in July, but Valverde sees light at the end of the tunnel.

The veteran Spaniard thought his career was over when he crashed in the opening day of the 2017 Tour de France. An exceptional rehabilitation has Valverde believing again, and the Movistar captain is confident he’ll be back to his winning ways sooner or later.

“My goal is to return to winning,” Valverde said at a Movistar camp Friday. “I don’t know if it will be in January or February or March, but without sounding like a jerk, I don’t think it will be very long.”

Those confident words wouldn’t have come if Valverde wasn’t feeling good on the bike.

Last July, Valverde was enjoying perhaps his best spring campaign ever, winning the Ardennes double at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège across the opening months of the season along with beating Alberto Contador in succession at stage races at Ruta del Sol, Catalunya, and the Basque Country.

All that came crashing down to Earth when he slid out on a rain-soaked corner in Dusseldorf. He smashed his knee into metal barriers. When he could see the bone, he thought his racing career was over.

“Right after crashing, and I looked at my knee, I thought, ‘forget about racing again,’” he said. “The worst part was that first 15 minutes after the crash. Everything was running through my head. But once we got to the hospital, and how they talked about the treatment, I already had some hope. But in those first moments on the ground, I thought my career was over.”

Valverde praised the German hospitals and doctors who helped save his career. “If it had been any other hospital, my career might have been over,” he said.

Surgery to repair his damaged kneecap — he still has two large pins and wires across his patella — was successful, and he soon turned his attention to returning to competition.

After two months off the bike following surgery, Valverde slowly returned to training. Since then, he’s clocked 6,000km on the bike and insists he’s producing the same power numbers as before his crash.

“My knee is holding up in training, and I have the same position on the bike. And most important, I am producing the same watts as before,” he said. “That leads me to believe that if I was already racing, I’d be in the hunt for the win.”

Valverde said he flirted with the idea of returning to racing this fall, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of coming back too soon or potentially crashing.

Despite his crash and his ripe age of 37 (38 in April), Valverde is still targeting the biggest races on the calendar. His idea is to repeat his racing calendar in 2017, with a likely start at the Mallorca Challenge, followed by Ruta del Sol, the tours of Murcia, Catalunya and the Basque Country, before a return to the Ardennes.

“A fifth Liège wouldn’t be bad,” he said, “or a sixth Flèche.”

Valverde said he’s “pleased” with the arrival of Mikel Landa despite some suggestions there is tension within the team, adding the Spaniard is able to “attack at any moment, and really shake up the race.”

“I don’t see any downside to him being at Movistar, only good things,” Valverde said of Landa. “He’s an attacker. He can attack at the start, at the end, and that’s great, because the rivals won’t know how to react.”

Valverde is content with racing to win at the one-week stage races and classics, largely leaving the grand tours to Nairo Quintana and Landa. He hinted he might join his two younger teammates at the Tour de France next year, but said he will surely race the Vuelta a España to prepare for the hilly world championships waiting in September in Austria.

“This could be my last chance to win the worlds,” said Valverde, who boasts six worlds medals but no titles. “It’s the one race I’d love win.”