Valverde: “If I’m in the lead with 200-250 metres to go, it’s really hard to beat me”
April 11 th 2018 - 13:24
There is no such thing as guaranteed success when it comes to pedalling for glory. Still, year after year, one man made the Mur de Huy and the streets of Ans his very own playground. In the recent years, there’s no doubt the third week of April belongs to Alejandro Valverde, winner of La Flèche wallonne on five occasions - including the last four! - and four time winner of Liège-Bastogne-Lège. This April, the Spanish veteran comes for more success in the Ardennes before turning 38 years old at the end of the month.
“As long as I win, I keep going”, the ‘Imbatido’ says. And since he finds a perfect ground for his uphill abilities at both La Flèche and Liège, there’s no reason for him to stop. “I think the Mur de Huy perfectly suits my characteristics”, Valverde confirms. Here’s how he became the most successful rider ever on this 1.2km climb with slopes rising above 20%: “I try to make sure nobody goes away, I evaluate the distance and then I strike. If I’m in the lead with 200-250 metres to go, then it’s really hard to beat me. It’s a distance I’ve co me to master, that’s where I have the edge. Liège also has a hard finish that I like.”
With more than 100 victories since he turned professional in 2002, Alejandro Valverde made it clear his range covers much more than the sole Ardennes classics. This year again, he leads standings with nine victories claimed on both stage races and single day events. But he feels most comfortable when a hard race wears out everyone in the peloton as we can see on la Flèche and at Liège. “A curvy demanding route benefits me”, he explains.
“It’s harder for me too, but everything becomes easier in the finale. My rivals have struggled too and then I don’t have to do the same kind of efforts for positioning.”
Thus it only seems natural Alejandro Valverde quickly made the Ardennes his favorite playground. “In 2005, when I first raced there, I was good until the last 15 kilometres”, he remembers. “I wasn’t good enough with positioning and self confidence. I lacked some certainty about whether I’m up for it. Along the years, experience allowed me to get where I am now.” As soon as 2006, he already won both La Flèche and Liège…
Twelve years later, Alejandro Valverde remains the man to beat for Dan Martin (2nd behind Valverde on the two races last year), Julian Alaphilippe (only Valverde got the best of him at Huy and Ans in 2015) or Dylan Teuns (3rd of La Flèche in 2017). The young Belgian has watched many replays of Valverde’s many successes on the Mur de Huy to try and understand how the Spaniard always comes on top.
“I have to adapt every year, depending on the race conditions and what my rivals have been doing”, Valverde replies. The historic leader of Movistar reveals a taste for “disorder within tactical order” although he’ll rely on a “great team”, with the likes of Mikel Landa and Marc Soler, to “always be in a good position, with the wind and coming close to the climbs”. Valverde tunes his recipe every year but he knows all the mandatory ingredients for success in the Ardennes.