“I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything legally.”
That was scofflaw Alejandro Valverde on the eve of his official return to professional cycling after a UCI-enforced two year suspension.
Setting aside this laughable statement from an unrepentant doper — who argues with DNA evidence? — we were reminded of something Chris Horner said in our interview for an upcoming Cycle Sport magazine story.
Horner is known as a skilled race tactician and we asked him who else in the peloton he though was adept at reading a race. His immediate answer was Valverde.
The Spaniard is a skilled liar and you’d have to say that his legal tactics were as shrewd as the ones he used in races. Once his name came up for suspicion in Operacion Puerto back in 2006, Valverde kept the UCI and WADA off balance for three years. He and his legal team used every trick in the book to keep racing despite a gray cloud over his head that was turning black.
For years, UCI president Patrick McQuaid could only sputter with rage every time Valverde’s name came up. The Spanish Cycling Federation wouldn’t act and nobody at UCI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland seemed to have the skill, political force or willpower to bring Valverde to justice.
In the meantime Valverde would go on to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Clasica San Sebastian, the 2008 ProTour title and the 2009 Vuelta a España. You can’t beat that for embarrasment. In all, he’d win over 20 races of note and even had time to grown a new head of hair.
In fact, it seemed the Green Bullet would escape all censure and punishment until the Italian Olympic COmmittee got hold of a blood sample from the 2008 Tour de France. That allowed them to match DNA with a blood sample from Puerto and ban him in Italy. Valverde’s odd geographical defense is that “they sanctioned me because they compared my DNA in that country without my presence.”
We’re sure the Italians would have been happy to have Valverde there in Italy but we don’t recall him deciding to make the trip. As an amusing detour, Valverde was then forced to miss the 2009 Tour de France because stage 16 passed into Italy.
The Court of Arbitration in Sport also thought the DNA evidence was conclusive and finally in 2010, they upheld the appeal by the UCI and WADA. Valverde’s ban was extended worldwide and he disappeared from view.
A short memory is a required skill for a top stage racer like Alejandro Valverde. To win a grand tour, a rider must put the bad day behind him and come back strong the next. Never waste precious energy on the negative, disavow the momentary weakness, deny the mistake, always stay positive. It’s Sports Psychology 101. “I turned the page quickly. I looked after myself, I trained and I’m happy to be back,” said Valverde. Somewhere in Spain, Jesus Marzano shakes his head in disgust.
Tactics can sometimes get ugly but if you want to win, you do whatever it takes. Just ask Alejandro and Movistar.