Last Sunday, at the Amstel, he finished fifth, the sixth time he finished in the top five in the race that opens the week of the Ardennes, the classic of the Belgian and Dutch wooded hills. He ended up so happy despite the fact that at the decisive moment he could not respond to the attack of the young Van Aert and Pidcock, that on Tuesday he declared: “I feel rejuvenated. I feel as young as if I were 30 years old ”. And on Sunday, Alejandro Valverde turns 41.
And on Sunday the 107th Liege-Bastoña-Liège, the oldest cycling monument (it was born in the 19th century, in 1892, four years before the Paris-Roubaix, the other nineteenth-century classic that is still disputed), is held. They call her the Dean, as the Dean or the younger Dean might well call Valverde, who on Wednesday, in the Flecha Walloon, the great aperitif of Liege, arrives badly placed at the foot of the Huy wall, the last obstacle And nobody thinks he can do anything anymore, he is so backward and closed in the peloton, and his fears are so well known when it comes to gaining positions by sticking elbows with a knife, but, suddenly, he climbs onto the sidewalk, without fear, like a youth, a child playing with the bike, and overtakes everyone until he reaches where he wanted, Alaphilippe’s wheel, who knows he is the enemy. Fatigued by the comeback, he cannot with the French, world champion, a rider whom he admires and considers his heir, and congratulates him after his third victory, nor does he reach Roglic, who, a rookie in the Arrow, in his desire to surprising Alaphilippe attacks too far and surrenders in the last meters, but finishes third, his eighth podium in one of his classic favorites, five times first (a record), two second and one third.
Valverde then verifies that the young people, of whom so much is talked about, are paper tigers, that none is much better than him at the moment, than the depression he suffered in 2019 and 2020, the hangover from the World Cup that he won in 2018, the months of doubts, had already passed, and so much moral gave him the Wall of Huy that he ended up saying that who had said that he would retire at the end of this year, after Tokyo and the Vuelta. “The truth is that it would not be very nice to leave cycling for a year like this, without an audience in the gutters,” he says in an interview with the RAI. “And I plan to continue one more year just for that, to be able to enjoy the public and for the public to enjoy me.” And this is the same Valverde who not two months ago assured that the young people were going very fast for him, that everything had changed too much, that he already felt old in this peloton, and without the ability to suffer as much as before.
And Eusebio Unzue, the director of his Movistar, is also excited, and, although he tries to specify that “you have to get away from the heat and make decisions with coldness and reason”, he also emphasizes that “after what was seen in 2019 and 2020, this Alejandro it is better than expected ”. “And it has been since the Volta a Catalunya, at the end of March, and continuing with Estella, the Tour of the Basque Country and its Ardennes,” recalls Unzue, who admits that although at first they did not think he could run the Tour, perhaps at end yes I do. “Although not thinking of winning it, of course. The replacement in the leadership of the team was already done last year, with Enric Mas, who will be reinforced in 2021 by Supermán López ”.
It would be the 14th Tour in which he lined up (he finished 10, and once, in 2015, third, he was on the podium), but first, this Sunday of his birthday, April 25, his 13th Dean awaits him, the monument of the 260 kilometers, 10 slopes – Roche en Ardenne, Saint Roch, Mont le Soie, Wanne, Stockeu and its monument to Merckx, Haute Levée, Desnié, La Redoute, Forges and Roche aux Faucons – and a col, that of Rosiers, which ends in the Ardennes dock in Liege, on the banks of the Ourthe, a finish made famous by Alaphilippe last year with his two errors, the abrupt movement in the sprint that hurt Hirschi and Pogacar, and cost him disqualification, and that of lifting arms ahead of time believing himself the winner without noticing that Roglic, to his right, was putting his front wheel in front of him. The four of them, the two Slovenians, the French and the Swiss will be favorites again. And also Valverde, who has already won four times in Liege, and is rejuvenating in his Ardennes. He won his fourth Liege in 2017, at 36 and 363 days, the oldest winner of the Dean. If he wins the fifth, he will do so at just 41 years old and will unseat the Dutch Joop Zoetemelk, winner of the 1987 Amstel at 40 years and 143 days, as the oldest winner of a great classic. And with five, of course, he will equal Eddy Merckx as the winner of more Lieges …