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Valverde’s comeback begins in Mallorca

Alejandro Valverde's recovery from a catastrophic knee injury has gone flawlessly. Now he's ready to return to racing — and win.

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If anyone is itching for the 2018 racing season to begin it’s Alejandro Valverde.

The Movistar veteran saw his career nearly end in the opening-day time trial at the 2017 Tour de France in Germany last summer. Surgery and a setback-free recovery mean that the 37-year-old will be able to resume racing.

And that day is drawing near. Valverde’s comeback begins in Mallorca at the end of January in just a few weeks.

“My ambition is to come back and win,” Valverde said. “I don’t know if that will be in January, or in April. I hope it doesn’t take long.”

Movistar officials confirmed this week Valverde will race at least one of the four-day races at the Mallorca Challenge at the end of January. And later he will line up at the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the Vuelta a Murcia and the Clásica Almeria.

After that, Valverde’s spring schedule remains undefined, but if things go well, he’ll likely headed back to the Ardennes. And the team is even hinting Valverde could race two grand tours, and possibly all three, en route to the world championships in Austria.

Valverde is clearly expecting to be back at his best for what will be his 18th pro season.

“A few months ago, I had doubts that I could be at the same level as before. Today I do not,” Valverde said in October. “I did some hard efforts, and the knee was completely perfect. I am ready to race, and win.”

Valverde was coming off one of his best spring campaigns ever last spring, winning his first three stage races and pulling off the Ardennes double with wins at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

A horrific crash on a wet left-hander during the Tour ripped a hole in his knee all the way to the bone. Valverde initially thought his career was over on the spot. Excellent medical support in Germany and later in Spain with surgery saved his career. After training 6,000km last fall, he was even considering racing the new Chinese race but decided to hold off until 2018.

Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said Valverde’s return to the roster for 2018 is a salve for the team.

“He is a guarantee for us in any race,” Unzué said. “We will see how the season evolves, but every indication is that he will be able to return to the Alejandro that we all know.”

Valverde is hoping to return to prolific best but also vows to stand aside to let Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana stake their claim in the grand tours. Valverde will be waiting in the wings if anything happens.

“I still feel young,” Valverde said. “We all know where I am coming from in terms of the injury, but in the head, I am not tired, or weary. In body and mind, I feel ready good.”

How good remains to be seen. Valverde is back in the battle soon.