COMMENT: 2018 World Elite road champion Alejandro Valverde has had a long and very successful career, but there has been controversy – Operación Puerto and all its fall-out. Valverde took his punishment and carried on winning, but is there still a dark cloud over the Murcian’s head? Ed hood looks at the history behind the man with the big palmarès. Love or hate Valverde, he is the World champion.
Alejandro Valverde – Always popular in Spain
Me? I’m just an old guy who used to time trial a bit and spends too much time reading and writing about cycling, so my opinion isn’t worth that much when it comes down to Alejandro Valverde’s win. But how about Olympic Champion, Greg Van Avermaet’s take?
Valverde following Van Avermaet in the Amstel Gold’18
“Valverde deserves this world title. I’m happy for him. He’s the best rider of his generation. No, I don’t think you should look back at his past. He’s very consistent; it’d really surprise me if he was still ‘up to something’. He is a deserved winner.” Thank you, GVA, my thoughts exactly.
On the other hand you could take the opinion of ex-rider, admitted doper, Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, who Tweeted: “Another excrement day for pro cycling.”
A young Alejandro Valverde in Mallorca
I once interviewed the great coach, mentor and advocate of clean cycling, the late Aldo Sassi who told me; ‘I am suspicious of riders who are only champions for three weeks each year.’ I wonder who he could have meant?
Two Vuelta stage wins in 2003
Valverde has been enjoying success from the spring to the autumn as a pro since 2002 – and before that he was twice a medallist in the Spanish Junior Time Trial Championships and U23 National Road Race Champion in 2001. By the very nature of kitting up it does not give you consistency or longevity – he has displayed both in abundance.
Valverde happy with 2nd in the 2003 Worlds
Second year pro – Worlds silver medal
Valverde’s last year with Kelme
Puerto? Sure, he was involved and the next statement does not absolve him from being part of the culture at that time – but is unfortunately the truth; ‘who wasn’t?’ When Valverde won his first Worlds medal, silver in Hamilton, Canada in 2003 you may like to remember some of the names in that race; Astarloa, Boogerd, Hamburger, Barry, Zabel, Brochard, Casagrande, Aldag, Landis – I could go on. . . As I said, the prevalence of kitting in that era does not make it right – but that’s the way it was, with the UCi ‘doing an Admiral Nelson’ and putting the telescope to the eye with the patch on it.
Calling Dr. Fuentes
Of course, this leads us into the whole ‘good doper/bad doper’ debate. When I was writing the PEZ preview for The Worlds, PEZ sage and mentor, Viktor told me that it wouldn’t be Valverde; “he’s finished.” When I reminded him that he’d just won two stages, the points jersey, finished fifth on GC and lead the winning team in the Vuelta he dismissed that with; “poor field and it’s late season with everyone tired.” When I phoned Vik after the Innsbruck finish to ask him to explain how the ‘finished’ Murcian had won, his argument had changed. “I have no time for the man, he’s a doper, he never confessed to his offences.”
Illes Balears–Banesto for 2005
Valverde and Indurain – Both cool
But neither did Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly, Robert Millar or any of my other heroes and they’re all still deities. Commentating and appearing as guests of honour at races and presentations. Brian Holm is now a self-styled ‘style guru’ and regular interviewee in the trendier cycling mags keen to hear his views on cycling fashion. But he was a Telekom man.
Tour’05 stage 10 to Courchevel with Lance Armstrong
Travis Tygart tells us that US Postal ran the most sophisticated doping set up that has ever been seen in cycling. Laying on a bus floor, parked up in a lay-by somewhere up a mountain with blood bags taped to the bulkheads doesn’t sound sophisticated to me. Telekom had some of the best scientific and medical minds in German universities behind their activities; but yet Brian is ‘cool’ and an ‘icon’.
Worlds – No medal in ’07 after 2nd in 2003 and 2005 and 3rd in 2006
David Miller is a likewise a TV pundit, style guru and ‘cool.’ It seems if you ‘fess up’ and shed a few tears then everything is fine. Erik Zabel gave us tears aplenty – twice. If he hadn’t chosen cycling it’s certain he could have been a successful ‘method’ actor with those tears on demand.
Liege win in 2008 to go with 2006, followed by 2015 and 2017
Yellow on Tour’08 stage 2
Men like Valverde chose to keep quiet, serve their time and get on with it with no hypocrisy – as is their right. He lost all of his 2010 results and didn’t race at all in 2011. In his first race after his punishment, The Tour Down Under in 2012, he came back right at the top, winning a stage and finished second on GC.
Pais Vasco 2010
2010 and 2011 taken off the record books – Right back to his winning ways in the Tour Down Under 2012
The sheer number and breadth of Valverde’s successes is breath taking as a Grand Tour rider he’s won the Vuelta, winning 11 stages along the way; he’s finished on the podium at the Giro with one stage win and finished on the podium in the Tour with four stage wins.
Vuelta’09 overall win
How many more races would these three Spaniards have won if their careers hadn’t clashed?
In ‘lesser’ stage races he’s won, the Critérium du Dauphiné (2008, 2009), the Volta a Catalunya (2009, 2017, 2018), the Tour of the Basque Country (2017), the Abu Dhabi Tour (2018), Route d’Occitanie (2018), the Vuelta a Andalucía (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017), the Vuelta a Burgos (2004, 2009), the Vuelta a Castilla y León (2016) and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (2004, 2007, 2018).
Tour’13 with young teammate – Nairo Quintana
Just before he crashed out of the 2017 Tour de France in Düsseldorf
As a single day rider his record is no less impressive, National Road Race Championships (2008, 2015), National Time Trial Championships (2014), Liège–Bastogne–Liège (2006, 2008, 2015, 2017), La Flèche Wallonne (2006, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), Clásica de San Sebastián (2008, 2014), Paris–Camembert (2008), Roma Maxima (2014), Vuelta a Murcia (2004, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2017 – single day since 2014, stage race previously) and the GP Miguel Indurain (2014, 2018). He’s also finished on the podium in The Strada Bianche, Amstel Gold Race and Lombardia.
Fleche Wallonne 2014
Clasica San Sebastian 2014
Fleche Wallonne 2017
The nature of his seven Worlds medal wins also illustrate the sheer versatility of the man.
2003: Bronze as a second year pro in Hamilton behind Astarloa he beats Van Petegem and Bettini in the sprint.
2005: Silver to Boonen in a blanket finish in Madrid.
2006: Bronze to Bettini on a lumpy course in Salzburg.
2012: Bronze to Gilbert over the Cauberg in Valkenburg.
2013: Bronze to Costa around beautiful Florence.
2014: Bronze behind Kwiatkowski on a tough parcours at Ponferrada.
2018: Gold at last on the toughest Worlds parcours in years in Innsbruck.
Worlds’13 – 3rd
Worlds’14 – 3rd
Worlds’15 – 5th
Worlds’18 – 1st
But despite his wonderful palmarès there are those who can’t forget his past, just this morning in the always interesting Rouleur magazine’s emailed newsletter I read: “But while some can easily separate the past from the present, forgive and forget, others find it more difficult. Valverde is undeniably one of the most exciting racers around and while there’s little reason to think he’s not riding as clean as anyone today, he has not publicly repented for his past sins. It’s okay to feel conflicted about that.”
The Devil on his heels
Worlds’18 – Bardet, woods and Valverde make the big move
And they go on to quote Innsbruck bronze medallist, Michael Woods: “I admire Valverde for his bike racing skills, but he does have a very sordid past that I’m not a fan of,” Woods told Rouleur when he met him in February at the Abu Dhabi Tour. “I don’t mean to speak ill of him,” he added, “but he’s not a guy that I look up to at all.”
World champion – Olympic Gold next?
The losers view
‘Loves what he does’
Me? I’m still with GVA – the Spaniard patently loves what he does and you simply can’t put his longevity and all those 120 plus wins down to kit.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.