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Valverde dreams of Flanders in rainbow jersey season

World champ Alejandro Valverde plans to race his first Tour of Flanders, and he intends to do much more than simply show off the rainbow jersey.

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Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) ended any hints of a rainbow jersey curse Tuesday with an emphatic victory in stage 3 at the UAE Tour.

It only took the ageless world champion 13 days of racing to snag his first win in 2019. After two second-places this season, Valverde was ecstatic to get his first win in the world champion jersey.

Valverde is using the UAE Tour to hone his form heading into the spring classics. His logical targets will be the Ardennes races, where he’s won Flèche Wallonne five times and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on four occasions.

Yet it’s the Tour of Flanders, a race he’s never dared to attempt, that has enthralled the Spanish all-rounder.

“I’d like to win Flanders. It’s a beautiful race that really motivates me,” he told EFE. “I’ve always watched it from far away and it’s a hard race to win. But I am still going at 39, a little bit late, but at a good moment to try, with the rainbow jersey.”

In his long and sometimes controversial career, Valverde has never raced Flanders or the even more treacherous Paris-Roubaix. For a rider who masters the explosive hills of the Ardennes, he’s steered well clear of the cobblestones in western Belgian and northern France.

When asked if he’d ever race Roubaix, Valverde said no with a laugh, “Only if I gained 20kg. I rider like me has no chance at Roubaix.”

Flanders is another story. The demands of the cobblestones on that route are less rigorous than Roubaix. And the punchy nature of the Flanders bergs could suit Valverde’s style perfectly.

Valverde admitted that he hates racing in the rain and cold. The sun-loving Spaniard will be hoping for good weather as he takes on Flanders April 7.

After the UAE Tour, he’s slated to race Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo — another monument he’s never won — and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. He’ll return to Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he raced to 11th last year in the second chase group on what was a very wet and cold Belgian spring day.

That performance, coupled with the allure of the rainbow jersey, is convincing Valverde to head to races he’s never done before, races like De Ronde.

“I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted and I want to enjoy it,” he said of his world champion season. “But I also want to win. I don’t like to pass by unnoticed. I don’t know how to do that. Until I retire, I will always try to win.”

In addition to Flanders, Valverde is returning to the Giro d’Italia in May and will skip the Tour de France. His absence will mean the end of Movistar’s “three-pronged” attack at the Tour, leaving the leadership battle to Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana. Valverde will return to the Vuelta a España before defending his worlds title at Yorkshire.