LIEGE, Belguim (VN) — Alejandro Valverde has been the nowhere man so far during the Ardennes classics, but he could be playing coy to put it all on the line for Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Despite putting the Ardennes classics at the top of his early-season priority list in his comeback year, the Spanish attacker has not been a factor at Amstel Gold Race or Flèche Wallonne.
At Amstel Gold, he arrived with the front group, but crossed the line 22nd after losing steam up the Cauberg. That story repeated itself Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, where was a lackluster 46th.
Valverde didn’t seem too worried when VeloNews spoke to him Saturday.
“It’s true that I haven’t had the same spark in my legs at the finales,” Valverde said. “We will see on Sunday. I am feeling better every day this week. I hope to have good legs tomorrow.”
Valverde has twice won Liège and was victorious once at Flèche, with a third-place at Amstel Gold. But he admitted that he’s not at the level he was hoping to be in what’s been an otherwise highly successful return to the peloton following his two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.
“These races are longer and harder than anything I’ve done so far. I have been content that I am able to stay with the front group, but I am lacking a little in the end,” he said. “I expected this, so I cannot complain. I am very happy with how things have gone so far.”
Valverde’s return has gone better than he could have hoped. He won a stage at the Tour Down Under in his first race back in January and then won a stage and the overall at the Ruta del Sol in February. In March, he was third at Paris-Nice, won a stage and the points jersey, but came down with a chest cold. He then crashed out at the Volta a Catalunya two weeks ago.
Those setbacks certainly didn’t help Valverde coming into the demanding Ardennes week.
“Maybe I have been missing a little bit of racing, that is true,” he said. “And this weather hasn’t helped. The cold and rain are not good for me. I hope [Sunday] is not so bad.”
After Liège, Valverde will take a break before beginning his preparation for the Tour de France and what he hopes will be a shot at making the Spanish selection for the 2012 London Games.
Valverde, however, could be setting a trap for his rivals. One RadioShack-Nissan rider whispered, “watch out for Valverde on Sunday. He was laughing all the way up the Mur at Flèche.”
Valverde could be waiting for the last laugh on Sunday.