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Alejandro Valverde’s return to racing wasn’t cheered by everyone this week at the Tour Down Under, because some believe the Spanish star should be more upfront about what he did or didn’t do in relation to the Operación Puerto doping scandal that netted him a two-year ban.
But Valverde proved he could still be a factor on the bike, taking a morale-boosting victory in his first stage race since the Tour de Romandie in the spring of 2010.
Valverde kicked his way to victory with a trademark punch atop the Old Willunga Hill in Saturday’s penultimate stage.
Valverde didn’t hold back the pent-up emotions and called the win “the most special” of his career en route to second overall behind winner Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge).
“It’s been excessive emotions, being able to show off all the fury I was keeping inside,” Valverde said after the win. “I couldn’t resist to tears at the finish. To a sentimental value, I’d say this is the most special victory in my career. It’s been hard months of training at home, taking care of myself with no competition … and you remember all of that.”
The victory bodes well for Valverde, who will race next at the Mallora Challenge ahead of his first major goal of the season at Paris-Nice in early March.
Movistar sport director Jose Luis Arrieta said the team leaves Australia “very satisfied” and said the return of Valverde raises the level of the squad.
“The team was at the same level as last year, but with Valverde, everyone shines a little more,” Arrieta said. “Personally, I had no doubt that Valverde wouldn’t be back at his same level. He has something that only a few riders in the world, and when you do your work, and you stay in your place, it’s rare that things don’t go well. When we got here, everyone was asking if he was going to be the same, and everyone was watching him, and there was even more work to score the win.”