Alejandro Valverde, Energizer bunny

Movistar rabbit

I never liked Alejandro Valverde. Once Operación Puerto hit back in 2006 with the blood bags and drugs and slimy veterinarian Eufemiano Fuentes, I crossed him off my list.

The fact that he never admitted his crimes or offered even the generic and cynic “apology” made him even worse in my book. He was one of those lingering ugly figures from the dark years and that hoped would retire sooner rather than later.

All that said, damn, the man knows how to win bike races, even at age 37 when most of his contemporaries have hung up the wheels. Say what you want but he absolutely loves racing his bike and — like fellow doper Davide Rebellin — shows no signs of losing his enthusiasm for training.

Often cited as one of the smartest tacticians on the road and a shrewd evaluator of when and where to attack, Valverde just keeps humming along. Like many observes who watched his terrible, knee-cap shattering crash on the opening stage of the 2017 Tour de France, I assumed his career was finally over. The so-called Green Bullet had shot his wad.

However, he’s back again, with renewed energy, like some kind of bike version of the energizer bunny. “We all know what has happened to me and I don’t feel tired, or weary, neither in my head nor in my body. I don’t feel like I’m 37, I feel ten years younger,” said Valverde. (Perhaps he’s moved on from performance enacting drugs to anti-aging potions? And seriously, how did he re-grow all that hair?)

He is positively raring to go and is already talking up what races he wants to win for the fifth or sixth time and which two grand tours he plans to ride. I shake my head in amazement and I have to say, almost against my will, I’m impressed.

“I’ve done about 6,000 kilometers in training. My idea was, once I started training, to reach as good a form as I possibly could and that’s what I’ve done,” said Valverde.  “I feel as if I started racing, I would be close to fighting for a win.”

He’ll be 38 in April and while the clock keeps ticking, Valverde seems to have found a formula for his own kind of time trial, staying ahead of aging. He still has the ambitions of a much younger rider — which, of course, he feels he is.

“It’s very difficult, but I would like to win a fifth Liege-Bastogne-Liege next season, more than winning Amstel Gold for the first time,” Valverde said at the Movistar team meeting near Pamplona. “A fifth Liege would make the same number of wins as Eddy. [Merckx.]”

His longevity also brings to mind American rider Chris Horner, who beat Vincenzo Nibali to win the 2013 Vuelta a Espana to become, at age 41, the oldest grand tour winner in history. We’re not sure Valverde still has that kind of victory in his legs — he have up on the Tour de France a few years ago — but we wouldn’t say it’s impossible, either.

After all, according to the Spaniard, he’s still pushing the same wattage. “Now I can train, sprint, I’ve got the same power output as before, so it’s going very well. My injured leg is weaker than the other, but with the winter ahead, I’ll work out in the gym to be at 100 percent.”

His confidence level is also at the same elevated level it was before the awful Tour crash. “I don’t know if my first win will be in January, February, March or April. I don’t want to sound boastful, but I don’t think it’ll be long coming.”

So, new nickname for Valverde, supplied via rough google translation: Conejito Energizante — Energizer bunny. Go, Conejito, go.

 

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