Alejandro (Nothing Wrong) Valverde is trying to crack Bradley Wiggins in Paris-Nice. The Movistar rider, back from his enforced two year vacation for doping in connection with Operacion Puerto, is 20 seconds behind Wiggins after four stages.
It’s a fascinating battle between two strong competitors with very different sets of associations, good and bad. The Spaniard returned from his suspension with a refusal to admit even the smallest mistake or error in judgement. On the other hand, Wiggins has been a vocal critic of doping and has ridden for the squeaky clean squads Garmin and Sky. It’s a old world against new world. You couldn’t ask for two more polar opposites and that clash in character dials up the drama.
Then there is the form of both riders. Valverde never really stopped training during his hiatus — in fact he was putting in the kilometers with his future Movistar teammates even before his suspension ended — a breach of the UCI rulebook.
He came back fast and furious winning the stage up Old Willunga Hill in January at the Tour Down Under. Just yesterday he took stage three of Paris Nice in the uphill sprint to Lac de Vassivière. Still, the jury is out on whether he’ll have the stamina and recovery to challenge Wiggins all the way to sunny Nice.
Meanwhile, Wiggins’ form is crazy good and the even the Brit seems surprised by how fast he’s flying and how strong his team Sky have become. It’s the reward for the hard off-season training and Wiggins has already handed out his thanks to his coaches for working him like a dog. The plan is going according to plan.
That sets up an intriguing battle between the two riders. Valverde has said today his goal is still the overall and he plans to ride with aggression. The Spaniard is also one of the sharpest tactical riders in the pro peloton. If anyone can figure out how to steal seconds back and outmaneuver the stronger Sky squad, it’s the man they call the Green Bullet. They also call him a few other things but we’ll let that slide.
This looks like a great show over the next few days in the Race to the Occasional Sun. Maybe almost as fantastic as the next one: Valverde versus Gilbert in the Ardennes classics.