Alejandro Valverde is being realistic ahead of world title defense next week in Yorkshire.
The perennial worlds favorite finally struck gold last year on a climb-heavy course in Austria to capture the elusive rainbow jersey. Valverde headlines a deep Spanish team heading to Yorkshire, but he is the first to admit the favorites’ list is a lot longer this year.
“Yorkshire is a good worlds course for me, but it’s true, it’s not as good as Innsbruck,” Valverde told the Spanish daily AS. “One has to be realistic. Last year’s route was only for a select few riders, and this year, the field is wide-open. Sure, I have options to win, but less than last year.”
Valverde, 39, recently wrapped up his final race in the rainbow jersey with second overall at the Vuelta a España. The Movistar captain was the first world champion to podium in the rainbow jersey in a grand tour since Abraham Olano was third in the 1996 Giro d’Italia.
“Finishing second at the Vuelta is especially motivating. That shows me that I am in great shape,” he told AS. “There’s plenty of time after the Vuelta to recover, rest and get the right mentality to go for it.”
The sometimes controversial Valverde is a worlds specialist, having finished a record six times on the top-3 podium until finally breaking through with an emotional victory in Austria last year. His career-long medal haul of seven podiums in world championship racing is a record.
If Valverde only had to watch a few riders last year, he knows the hilly but demanding circuit in Yorkshire will see a selective but more wide open race. Riders such as three-time winner Peter Sagan and Dutch superstar Mathieu van der Poel head a deep and competitive elite men’s field.
“The favorites are Van Avermaet, Sagan, Alaphilippe, and I’m surely forgetting a few more,” he said. “I haven’t seen the course yet, but I will check it out once we are there. I am very excited.”
Indeed, the hilly 285-kilometer Yorkshire route packs multiple steep, punishing hills that might suit the 39-year-old Spanish champion. Climbs like the Buttertubs (6.7km at 4.3%) and Grinton Moor (4.4km at 5.4 percent) fall in the route’s first half, before the course completes 13 laps around the Harrogate circuit.
That circuit includes the steep Harlow Moore Road, which is 1.1km in length and averages 5.6 percent.
Valverde is definitely in good climbing shape from the Vuelta. Whether he has the sprint to outlast powerful sprinters like van Avermaet, Sagan, or van der Poel is the big question.
Only six cyclists have successfully defended their title, with Sagan becoming the only rider to win three in a row. Valverde is hoping to join that elite company, but he’s realistic and already content to have at least one rainbow jersey in his collection.