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Valverde’s nine lives: Spaniard re-ups with Movistar through 2019

The veteran Spaniard will be 39 when his new contract with Movistar is up.

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Alejandro Valverde shows no signs of slowing down. As many of his generation are edging toward retirement, the veteran Spaniard confirmed Thursday he will pedal on through the 2019 season.

That will make him 39, including 17 years as a professional — not counting his forced two-year stop for links to Operación Puerto — and secure him a place as one of Spain’s greatest riders when his Movistar contract is up.

Movistar announced Thursday a two-year contract extension of his deal that ends in 2017, assuring that the prolific and consistent Valverde will stay in a Movistar jersey through 2019.

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“Alejandro just keeps getting better with age,” Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué said during the Vuelta a España this year. “He is exemplary as a professional and a master of his craft. He can race as long as he wants to.”

Now 36, Valverde boasts nearly 100 professional victories, including 74 under the Movistar banner. Among his achievements are four WorldTour titles, one overall title at the Vuelta a España, podiums in all three grand tours, three wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, four at Flèche Wallonne, and dozens of other major wins.

Valverde has had his share of controversy, including being linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal and serving a two-year ban that sidelined him during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Upon his return in 2012, Valverde has emerged as a wiser, more mature rider, showing incredible consistency across grand tours — including completing all three this season, capped by a career-first podium at the Giro d’Italia.

Valverde’s nine lives

1. The ‘unbeaten one’
In his first carnation, Valverde earned the nickname “El Imbatido,” which roughly translates to the “unbeaten one,” for his prolific victories as a junior. After riding with Banesto’s development team, he eventually linked up with a regional squad near his hometown of Murcia that would give him a shot with the now-defunct Kelme team. As a son of an amateur racer, Valverde seemed to have the DNA for greatness.

2. Slow start
Valverde turned pro in 2002 with Kelme, eventually racing three seasons with the Spanish outfit. His rookie season was the only year of his career in which he didn’t win a professional race. A handful of top 10s showed promise, but no one could have expected that he’d eventually rack up nearly 100 professional victories.

3. Breakout season
After a steady spring, Valverde hit the afterburners in 2003, taking his first pro victories with a stage win at the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Klasika Primavera in April. That set the tone for the year that included two stage wins and third overall at the Vuelta a España and silver in the 2003 worlds. “Balaverde” — the green bullet — was born.

4. Worlds man
By 2005, Valverde joined Caisse d’Epargne (part of the Banesto legacy now racing as Movistar), and scored six victories in his first season with what would be his professional home, including a stage victory in his Tour de France debut. More importantly, he rode to silver in the Madrid world championships, establishing himself as a man for the worlds. Valverde owns a record six worlds medals, although none of them are gold.

5. Ardennes mastery
By 2006, Valverde emerged as one of the most consistent performers in the peloton with six wins, second at the Vuelta, and bronze at the worlds. Blessed with his compact, puncheur physique, he confirmed his promise in the Ardennes by winning Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège back-to-back. That season saw clouds as Valverde was linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal erupting in Spain, but he evaded a ban as the controversy continued to broil.

6. Vuelta win, Puerto ban
The run from 2007-09 saw Valverde establish himself as one of the top pros in the peloton, with back-to-back victories in Dauphiné Libéré and the overall victory at the 2009 Vuelta (his lone grand tour win). Italian authorities, however, linked his blood samples to Puerto evidence and after a lengthy legal battle, Valverde was given a two-year ban. He was sidelined during the 2010-11 seasons, but continued to train intensely and plot his comeback.

7. Second act
Valverde returned to the peloton with a bang, winning up Old Willunga Hill in his first race back at the Tour Down Under. He claimed a stage win at Paris-Nice and confirmed his comeback with a stage victory at the Tour de France and a bronze medal at the world championships. Valverde prefers to let his legs do the talking and didn’t speak much about his racing ban, insisting that he turned the page.

8. Podium man
Valverde hit new maturity, claiming another Flèche-Liège double in 2015 en route to capturing an elusive Tour de France podium with third in 2015 after folding late the previous year. The emergence of Nairo Quintana saw Valverde happily share the spotlight at Movistar. In 2016 he raced his first Giro, winning a stage and finishing third overall, giving him the milestone of earning podiums in all three grand tours.

9. Final act
With his contract extension through 2019, Valverde moves into the final years of his prolific and controversial career. He’s already slotted into the role of road captain to Quintana for the Tour and will focus on unfinished business, especially trying to win an elusive world title. After a long, up-and-down career, Valverde insists that it’s the love of the sport that keeps him in the peloton. What surprises are in store for his final act?