Ronde van Vlaanderen
World Champion -supported by impressive Movistar Team- honours rainbow jersey with solid race in the Belgian cobbles and hills, finishes into favourites’ group behind race winner Alberto Bettiol (EF1).
He’s undoubtedly the most polyvalent talent Spanish cycling has ever seen. And another proof of that was available for everyone today. With no previous experience in the race and barely a couple races in his legs at the so-called Flemish Ardennes since he turned pro, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) was able to finish Sunday’s 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen in 8th place, in his debut in the second Monument of the spring campaign, just 18 days before turning 39.
The World Champion crossed the line 17″ behind race winner Alberto Bettiol (EF1), into a group of favourites he never lost contact with, rather feeling more and more comfortable with every kilometer passing. Supported brilliantly by arguably the best Movistar Team ever at the Flemish classics -Jasha Sütterlin, Nelson Oliveira and Lluís Mas, amongst many others, following the moves, chasing and keeping the Spaniard sheltered-, Valverde covered the final series of climbs -a 50km loop before the finish from the second ascent to Oude Kwaremont- inside the first twenty riders in the field, becoming more and more solid against riders usually 10 or 15kg heavier than him.
Even able to join a four-man counter attack after the last climb to the Paterberg -alongside Mathieu van der Poel (COC), Greg van Avermaet (CPT) and Oliver Naesen (ALM)-, the subsequent junction left Valverde into a 15-rider peloton which saw him launching his sprint from way behind, yet finishing into a top-ten which further underlines his undeniable quality. It’s never too late.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“I’m really happy with today’s race. It was a very demanding one with all the nerves, the stress, having to find a good position all the time. But once the group became smaller and smaller, I started to feel great, climbed the hills further ahead into the group, and all in all, I leave really satisfied with my performance. I came way closer to the victory than I expected. As we approached the finish, our rivals were struggling and it was easier to come back, stay near the front – I was feeling really good. I don’t know if I’ll still have a chance to win this in the upcoming years, because knowing these roads well is key, but I did really well. I’m really looking forward to coming back, and finishing inside the favourites’ group today gives me loads of confidence.
“The team really did well today. They were so willing to keep me in a good position, they followed all dangerous moves, showing confidence. We started off calm but into the final loops near the end, we were always at the right moves, really solid. In my case, I don’t feel like I have really paid with that lack of experience, when it comes to how to react during the race. I’ve been a pro for such a long time, competed at so many different classics – even if not so many on cobblestones – and I knew that those experiences would help me.
“At the final Kwaremont, a rider ahead of me lost contact with the main group, and I had to wait until the final slopes to find a way to bridge back. It’s true that Bettiol really timed his attack well, and it was so difficult to come back. There were many fast riders, which made for a lack of cooperation into our group – despite being able to go on a counter-attack after the Paterberg, the four of us were caught by the others and it was impossible to cooperate. And I wasn’t willing to spend more energy than the others.
“I was surprised by the immense crowds all race long. How people live this race – just impressive. Thanks to all Belgian fans; I really enjoyed with such strong support, and it really feels like these races, also Roubaix, are ‘theirs’, which makes them become so special.”
Cover picture (c): Luca Bettini / BettiniPhoto