First, Caley Fretz and Neal Rogers beat me to the sentiment.
The Fretz opinion piece titled “I wish Valverde hadn’t won” and a long piece by Rogers ran a day ago in CycleTips. Their points of view pretty much capture what I was thinking but, hey, It’s still the only subject I feel like writing about today.
Valverde wins Worlds road race is a great story if your audience is Alejandro Valverde and Spanish cycling fans. For the rest of the world, it’s the least attractive of three possible outcomes — Michael Woods of Canada or Romain Bardet of France were both far better stories for a sport that needs all the positive stories it can get.
The photo of Valverde’s face, surrounded by teammates, was an image of pure and absolute happiness after so many near misses. The victory crowns an impressive career as the top Spanish rider of his generation besides Alberto Contador. Good for him and his family and friends.
That said, I can never separate Valverde from his blood bags, the ones he had stored with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes back in 2006. The Operation Puerto doping cases dragged on for years and there were plenty of black eyes to go around.
Valverde never acknowledged that he had doped, never even offered up a cynical, PR-ready apology. It was the exact same approach taken by Alexander Vinokourov. Nobody has really thrilled when Vino won the Olympic road race in London in 2012.
Valverde winning the World’s road race is a backward story, not a forward one. The sport needs momentum, positive energy, a sense of renewal, a different set of athletes with a stronger commitment to clean cycling. Valverde winning the rainbow jersey isn’t a bunch of happy, bright colors — it’s a set of grays and blacks.
Frenchman Romain Bardet would have fit the bill to perfection. An outspoken advocate of clean cycling, Bardet has been on the podium of the Tour de France on two occasions and races with aggression and panache. Intelligent and outspoken, he would have been an ideal rider to wear the rainbow jersey.
Michael Woods of Canada would have made an even better, more vibrant story. A track athlete, he came to the sport of pro cycling late, turning professional in 2013. Since then he’s made astonishing progress, including 7th overall in the 2017 Vuelta a Espana, 2nd in the 2018 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a stage win in this year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Woods is a fresh face, from a new world cycling country, and is also vocal in his commitment to racing clean. And think what a wonderful media boost the win would have been for his EF-Education First team– which came within weeks of folding last year due to a lack of sponsorship.
Instead, Alejandro Valverde, world champion.
That’s still a polarizing result in a sport desperate for clarity and joy. It’s worth noting that there are already 96 comments to the story Caley Fretz wrote about Valverde’s win. If it had been Bardet or Woods winning the race, all those comments would have been positive.