After nearly four months without racing, there was only one place Alejandro Valverde was going to be.
Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) might have caught out the favorites by surprise in this uphill kicker at the Burgos castle, but Valverde was right in the frame with third in the stage.
Where else was the 2018 world champion going to be? When there’s a finish line, Valverde always wants to be first.
“I couldn’t be happier to return to racing after this long stop,” Valverde said after the stage. “It was a pleasure to be here, to enjoy it all, and see the public respecting the rules.”
Tuesday’s opening stage around the hills near Burgos saw a bit of everything for a peloton that’s been caged up since mid-March when the coronavirus put the brakes on racing.
For a sport that thrives on movement, just being back in the saddle was a salve for everyone in the bunch.
Being locked inside was torture for the riders, but perhaps even a bit more so for Valverde. With nearly two decades in racing, a four-month forced stop and the delay of the Olympic Games to 2021, already has Valverde taking his career into a third decade.
“It was the combination of hunger and appetite,” Valverde said. “Everyone was motivated to race, and that made everyone more aggressive. It was fast, there were splits, gaps, wind. I couldn’t be happier with third.”
Valverde is one of the star Spanish riders lining up in Burgos. Fans turned up to see the first race in Spain since the spring shutdown, and didn’t go away disappointed.
Valverde joins Movistar teammates Marc Soler and Enric Mas this week, with all three targeting bigger things later this season.
For Valverde, who turned 40 during the lockdown in April, couldn’t help himself when the rode pitched up toward the final crest. The cagey veteran was marking the wheel of Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) when Großschartner pounced.
“Tomorrow is a day for the sprinters, and we’ll try to keep our options open,” Valverde said. “We’ll see how the wind is blowing. And once we’re finished, think about Thursday.”
How did Valverde feel at the finish line? Contentísimo — very happy — of course, he was racing again.