He may be approaching 40 but the marvel that is Alejandro Valverde proved he remains one of the best cyclists in the world by powering to victory at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
The Spaniard is just two months shy of his 38th birthday but showed all the experience collected from his 16-year professional career as he put in a vintage display to win Stage 5 on Jebel Hafeet and with it take the overall GC victory.
The mountainous finale seemed tailor made for the Movistar man and he got the Hollywood ending he desired.
After positioning himself among the leading group at the base of the 10.8km summit, he stayed in pursuit as Bora-Hansgrohe rider Davide Formolo made the initial move before breaking away to catch Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez with four kilometres remaining and holding off the challenge of the 24-year-old Colombian – 13 years his junior.
Even more remarkable was the fact victory extended Valverde’s impressive start to 2018 – having returned in January only five months after breaking his knee cap on the Tour de France’s opening stage on July 1.
Delight in Abu Dhabi follows on from victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and top five finishes at the Vuelta a Murcia (second), Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (third) and Trofeo Lloseta-Andratx (fourth).
And with Valverde showing no signs of ageing, he’s determined to carry on for as long as possible.
“There’s no secret to winning at this age,” said No101, who chalked up the 101st victory of his storied career.
“My physical condition. I love my work, it’s what I do but it’s my passion and if I continue winning I will continue riding. I’m really happy with what I’m doing and with my team. I know I’m a rider that gets big wins and am always there.
“I feel as strong as I was last year. I started in Majorca and then in Valencia I knew I was in good shape.”
It’s a career that’s been punctuated as much by controversy as it has by glory. Valverde was suspended for two years in 2010 after being found guilty of blood doping at the 2008 Tour de France.
And asked if his return was sweeter then or now, he replied: “It was different. 2012 was beautiful when I came back to win Vuelta a Andalucia (his first victory in nearly three years) but probably this year has been more beautiful.
“2012 is really far away. I think about today and the future. I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
Once up the grueling Jebel Hafeet ascent is enough for most riders, but Valverde revealed he took it on three times earlier in the week in order to test his legs and pick spots from which to attack. And the man known as the Bullet revealed that triggered his win.
“I was here since Friday, I did the climb on Friday and twice on Saturday so I knew it already,” said the Las Lumbreras native.
“I studied the places where I might try to attack. I also came here early to adapt to the climate and small time change.
“And it was a really good idea to do that as it helped me win the stage. I knew exactly what I needed to do to attack. It’s a really important win for me and the team and our motivation.”
Overnight leader Rohan Dennis put up a good fight on the final stage in a bid to remain in charge, with the Australian determined to shake his tag as a time trial specialist as he targets the Giro d’Italia GC later this year.
Otra más!!!— J.V. García Acosta (@jvgarciaacosta) 25 February 2018
The BMC Racing rider, who had started the day 14 seconds ahead and 24 in front of Valverde, dropped halfway up the climb but still did admirably to claim 23rd place on the stage and ninth overall.
By the finish, the leading duo had around 15 seconds on the chasers and, as they approached the final bend, Valverde used all his experience to sweep by Lopez on the inside to cross the line for this third stage win of the year, and overall victory ahead of Team Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman and Lopez.
Consolation for Lopez came with third overall and earning the white jersey for the best young rider, and he said: “The podium and the white jersey make it a good result for me.
“As always, I’ve had a great team to try and get the victory. But Alejandro Valverde is a great champion. Already to arrive with him up this climb is an achievement. To beat him in a sprint is almost impossible for me. So I’m happy with what I got in Abu Dhabi.”
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