Alejandro Valverde reflects on 2014: UCI WorldTour No. 1 for the third time in his career after eleven victories plus top-4 in all Tour, Vuelta, Worlds RR, five big classics
Aged 34, and after having spent twelve seasons as a pro cyclist, Alejandro Valverde claimed back the top spot of cycling rankings after winning the 2014 UCI WorldTour. The Movistar Team beat fellow countryman Alberto Contador and Australian Simon Gerrans en route to his third title after success in 2006 and 2008. The Murcia-born rider was also crucial on his squad’s victory in the teams’ ranking, having obtained 11 victories and 19 podiums in what is arguably his best season in the pro scene -84 wins to his account since 2002-. Valverde will remain a Blue after having recently signed a three-year contract extension with Eusebio Unzué’s structure.
Alejandro’s season was brilliant from its start to its end. Already during the first month of competition, he won the GC and three stages of the Vuelta a Andalucía -including the prologue, where he beat Worlds medallists Wiggins and Dumoulin-, the Vuelta a Murcia and the prestigious Roma Maxima. In the spring, he claimed his first success in the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain, finished 3rd in the Strade Bianche as well as 5th in País Vasco, and was the most regular in the Ardennes trio: winner of his second Flèche Wallonne, 2nd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 4th in the Amstel Gold Race. Back after a short break on his way to the Tour de France -claiming 2nd-place finishes in both the Route du Sud and the Spanish RR Championships-, he became the national time trial champion in Ponferrada. The Grande Boucle saw him coming closer than ever to the overall podium: he was 4th, after spending many days in 2nd spot.
Without any time to reflect on disappointment from the Tour, Valverde got back into winning ways with his second Clásica San Sebastián, before going on with two podiums in his two main goals in late-season: the Vuelta a España, where he claimed a stage win and the third place of the GC -his sixth podium in the Spanish Grand Tour-, and the Worlds road race in Ponferrada, snatching a bronze medal that increases his lead in the historical ranking of medals (6). A second spot in the final monument of the season, Il Lombardia, just five days after becoming a father for his fourth time, closed the impressive season of the undeniable No. 1 in the world.
What does it mean to finish as best rider of the season for someone who already achieved almost everything you can win in cycling?
It’s extremely important for me. Finishing on top of the rankings is a reward to the whole work I did before and during the season. It means that my season was really good, that I always kept up doing well throughout the season, constant and consistent. It’s obvious that the Worlds, what they mean, with the rainbow jersey and everything it means, are a big goal for a cyclist, at least for me. But, if you think about it thoroughly, this WorldTour ranking should have similar significance, and I hope that changes in the future because it would be good to recognise and reflect who was the most regular guy during the season in all top races.
When did the WorldTour ranking become a goal for you this season?
I started thinking about it after the Tour. Before that, you pay attention to the rankings from time to time, but not really much. The Vuelta went well and I knew that, even though Alberto was ahead of me after the race, I had my chances because I was confident I could get many points in Lombardy. Fortunately, it went so and at the end, though we were both about to board on the plane to China, we decided that it was better to stay home. It’s true that I asked him after his crash in Italy if he was going to Beijing, because I didn’t have that race on my calendar either and, above all, what I wanted in that moment was enjoying my newborn baby. Eventually, I had both things.
It’s been almost ten years since you become World No. 1 for the first time. That doesn’t happen frequently in pro cycling…
That’s true. I already won it in 2006, I repeated that success in 2008, I was twice third afterwards… But I want to look further back. In 2003, I was 3rd in the Vuelta and second in the World Championships. Eleven years later, in 2004, I’ve been in both podiums again. It’s been a long twelve years on the top of the sport, but as I’ve stated before many times, when I train or compete nowadays, my feelings are better than when I was younger. Where do I feel superior to that young man? I take things easier, I feel my body able to cope better with pressure, I’m more mature. Also, races take less of me than before. It’s true that I might have lost that sort of ‘sparkle’ in my moves, taking more risks in situations where I don’t risk so much now – I raced a bit more crazily before.
In your three main goals prior to the start of the season -Tour, Vuelta, Worlds-, your worst result was 4th…
When I set a goal on myself, I never say I’m going to win this or that race. Should a rider be able to tackle a goal with the certainty he is going to win, everyone would achieve it. What I mean here is – there’s only one Liège, one Tour, one Vuelta, one Worlds road race – only a rider can win it. Still, having those three races as a goal before the season, I was able to win Flèche and San Sebastián, I was 2nd in both Liège and Lombardy, 3rd in the Vuelta and the Worlds, 4th in the Amstel Gold and the Tour, where I fought for a second place finish until the very last moment… I’m more than satisfied with what I achieved this season – I would be more than happy to repeat that in 2015.
Do you think it was your best season?
By a mile. No doubts about that.
Were there any bitter moments in that brilliant 2014?
Yes (answers without hesitation.) The Tour. It was my highest GC finish in France, but it left me a bitter taste after having the podium on my hands. Losing it was the worst moment of my season. I don’t know if I went through any others, but that’s the only one I can remember at the end of the year.
Which was the race you enjoyed the most?
Maybe Flèche Wallonne. This is a race where you have to be on absolute top form to win it, and I claimed the victory with a big margin over the rest.
Very few riders remark their team-mates’ work so insistently after every race…
I do this because you can never achieve any results without your team doing a phenomenal job. I felt really at easy with all team-mates, but not only with the other riders, but also with the sports directors, who did a great job, with the team staff and everyone surrounding the Movistar Team. I always said this team is my home and, even though we go through highs and lows, like any other team, the atmosphere here is fantastic. We get on with each other really well and that has a massive impact on the road. Becoming the world’s best team last season and repeating that success in 2014 – that’s outstanding. It’s difficult to reach that spot, but even harder to keep it. The good thing is that every race we go, we give our maximum, and when you give 100%, you can’t be asked for anything else.
Though your 2015 schedule is still to be defined, have you got any challenges on your mind for next year?
The Giro is a race I’ve never taken part in, and I already said in other times I would like to give it a try – I’m already well experienced in both the Tour and the Vuelta. Riding all three Grand Tours? Why not. It’s a challenge that I like and it’s in my mind, too, though I haven’t still spoken to Eusebio. And the classics – It’s true that Paris-Roubaix doesn’t suit my body really well, but I can fight for the other monuments I haven’t won yet, like Lombardy, Flanders or Sanremo, should the latter be hardened as it was proposed before this season.
Last year, you made clear that if you got back to the Tour, it would be to help out Nairo Quintana…
And it’s clear on my mind. It has to be that way. I won’t be stopping him from reaching new heights in his career after he has shown he’s more than prepared to take on the challenge of winning the Tour. It’s similar to the situation we both came in leading to the Vuelta. Eventually, I had to take full responsibility after Nairo’s crash, and I responded well. Let’s hope that it doesn’t happen the same if I ride the Tour next year – we just desire to focus on taking him into the podium in Paris.
ALEJANDRO VALVERDE IN 2014: THE NUMBERS
· WorldTour No. 1
· 11 victories
– stage 6, Vuelta a España
– Flèche Wallonne
– Clásica San Sebastián
– Roma Maxima
– GP Miguel Indurain
– Spanish ITT Championship
– Vuelta a Murcia
– Vuelta a Andalucía (+ 3 stages)
· Grand Tours
– Tour de France: 4th
– Vuelta a España: 3rd (+ 1 stage)
· 3 medals
– Spanish ITT Championships (gold)
– World RR Championships (bronze)
– Spanish RR Championships (silver)
· One-day races
– 1st, Flèche Wallonne
– 1st, Clásica San Sebastián
– 1st, Roma Maxima
– 1st, GP Miguel Indurain
– 1st, Vuelta a Murcia
– 2nd, Il Lombardia
– 2nd, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
– 3rd, Strade Bianche
– 4th, Amstel Gold Race
· Other stageraces
– 1st, Vuelta a Andalucía (+ 1 stage)
– 2nd, Route du Sud
– 5th, Vuelta al País Vasco
· 28 podium places
· 44 top-10 finishes
· 77 days of racing
· Season results
1. Dubai Tour – 27th
2. Vuelta a Andalucía – 1st (+3 stages)
3. Vuelta a Murcia – 1st
4. Clásica de Almería – 16th
5. Strade Bianche – 3rd
6. Roma Maxima – 1st
7. GP Nobili – 44th
8. Dwars door Vlaanderen – 36th
9. E3 Prijs Harelbeke – 63rd
10. GP Miguel Indurain – 1st
11. Vuelta al País Vasco – 5th
12. Klasika Primavera – 27th
13. Amstel Gold Race – 4th
14. Flèche Wallonne – 1st
15. Liège-Bastogne-Liège – 2nd
16. Route du Sud – 2nd
17. Spanish ITT Championships – 1st
18. Spanish RR Championships – 2nd
19. Tour de France – 4th
20. Clásica San Sebastián – 1st
21. Vuelta a España – 3rd (+1 stage)
22. World RR Championships – 3rd
23. Il Lombardia – 2nd