Valverde looks forward to ‘beautiful duel’ with Gilbert

Movistar captain cleared for racing after Catalunya crash

LEON, Spain (VN) — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has shaken off a crash at last week’s Volta a Catalunya and says he will be in top shape for the upcoming Ardennes classics.

The Spanish rider injured his shoulder in a fall in the feedzone in the second stage and did not start the following day. Valverde says he’s all set for a return to the Ardennes next month following his two-year racing ban.

“I am good and more than recovered with motivation to return to racing again,” he told the Spanish wire service EFE. “I hit a water bottle in the feedzone and it lifted my wheel to one side and I fell. I was pretty banged up the next day and couldn’t take the start, but I missed out on what turned out to be a horrible day with weather. That’s cycling.”

Though his Movistar team has him on a preliminary start list, Valverde said he’s still unsure if he will race the Vuelta al País Vasco next week in northern Spain.

Valverde typically would race the hilly and demanding course to prepare for the Ardennes, but this year he was planning on skipping the Basque Country to race the Tour de Romandie instead.

He won the 2010 Romandie tour, but had the results disqualified when the Court of Arbitration for Sport handed down a two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto blood doping ring.

The Ardennes classics are Valverde’s first major goals of his comeback season.

So far, Valverde has returned to his former level, winning stages in every race he’s started except Catalunya. He won a stage at the Tour Down Under in his comeback race and then won the overall and two stages at the Ruta del Sol in February as well as a stage, the points jersey and third overall at Paris-Nice earlier this month.

Valverde said he’s looking forward to his return to the Ardennes, where he has been a consistent challenger for victory. He won La Flèche Wallonne in 2006 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2006 and 2008.

Valverde says he’s looking forward to locking horns with BMC Racing’s Philippe Gilbert.

“Last year, Gilbert was a monster, but we’ll see this year,” Valverde said. “Maybe he’s planning on starting off his season more quiet, because this time last year, he had already won a lot of races. It should be a beautiful duel.”