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In an interview with Spanish media, the veteran Spaniard said he searched out help from professional counselors in the wake of his two-year racing ban.
“I had an almost depressive state,” he told MARCA. “In the end, you have a lot of people looking your way. Many athletes retire early because they can’t stand that pressure. I was very scared, I was getting overwhelmed and feeling worse. The psychiatrist told me I had a depressive state.
“The pressure you have psychologically is very hard,” Valverde said. “I went to the Amstel Gold Race, and I thought I could not race. I went to bed the night before and I felt terrible. I raced the next day, I followed the group all the time. There were fewer and fewer people left and I was still there, I couldn’t pull on the handlebars. I was scared and unmotivated.”
The episode occurred in the wake of the Operación Puerto doping scandal and Valverde’s subsequent two-year ban from 2010 to 2012. Valverde, now 39, came back stronger than ever, and last year won the rainbow jersey in Austria and Sunday, finishing second overall in the Vuelta a España.
Yesterday, he spoke about it in detail ahead of a documentary called, “Un año de arcoíris,” or A Rainbow Year
Valverde has repeatedly declined to comment on his involvement with the investigation, or the ban, since he returned to racing in 2012. His refusal to comment has prompted repeated online backlash from fans, who see Valverde’s silence as a form of the omerta that helped conceal the details of pro cycling’s ‘epo’ generation. The MARCA interview and documentary mark some of the first public comments that Valverde has made about the ban.
Valverde continued to race despite being linked to the Operación Puerto investigation that began in 2006. He was eventually sanctioned in 2010, once his DNA was matched to some of the coded blood bags seized by Spanish police in 2006. Valverde lost his results from the 2010 season, and was forced to sit out the 2011 season. When asked in following years, he has never clarified the details or admitted guilt.
Valverde returned to racing in 2012 and continued to win both one day and stage races. His massive palmarès now includes four wins in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and five in Flèche Wallonne. A second place in the Vuelta a España this weekend came 10 years after he won it in 2009. And the icing on the cake was the Innsbruck worlds title from 2018.
“[Cycling] is nice, but I went through hard things. I overcame it,” he told AS.
“According to the psychiatrist, cyclists are people who want everything measured and precise. I saw everything go black, but in the end, I got over it.
“I thought, if I have everything, why is this happening to me? I didn’t understand anything,” he continued. “But the truth is that it was happening to me. Thanks to the specialists, I was able to put everything behind.”
Similar situations occurred in cycling recently, with Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Pete Kennaugh (Bora-Hansgrohe) quitting cycling this 2019 season due to the high demands on their personal lives.
“I’m relieved for telling this. It is already overcome, and if it serves other athletes who are in the same situation and do not know how to leave…,” he continued. “It shows that not everything is as beautiful as it seems, that there are also very bad times.”
Valverde will defend his title in the Yorkshire worlds on September 29 and then turn to 2020. He aims at the Tokyo Olympics gold medal. He added, “It would be the finishing touch for my career.”