Rider of the week
When he wants, Alejandro Valverde can be one of the most exciting cyclists in the world. Problem is he doesn’t choose that path too often, opting instead to have a defensive approach in the key moments, which lead to to many missed opportunities throughout the years in one day-races, including the World Championships. On the other hand, the same tactic has helped the Spaniard establish himself as one of the best Classics riders of his generation, with some impressive results in his CV, especially in the Ardennes.
Actually, Valverde’s love affair with those Classics has started exactly a decade ago, when he had the opportunity to ride all three races and his best result was a 13th place in Amstel Gold Race. Once he got the taste of it, the one they call “El Bala” came back every single year and it didn’t take much to pull his first win, in the 2006 Flèche Wallonne, which was followed just a couple of days afterwards by Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a double that has helped him join the elite group of riders – Ferdi Kübler, Stan Ockers, Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin, Davide Rebellin, Philippe Gilbert – who won both races in the same season.
In 2015, he came at the start of the Ardennes week as one of the favorites, but people didn’t rate Alejandro Valverde as one of the main favorites, not even when he finished second in Amstel Gold Race. Things changed after Flèche Wallonne, where he controlled everyone on the steep gradients of the Mur de Huy, before unleashing a powerful sprint, which allowed him nab his third win there and equal the record held by such cyclists as Eddy Merckx and Moreno Argentin, real legends of the Ardennes.
After that success, it became clear that Valverde will be the man to beat in Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège, so people were expecting an aggressive ride from his rivals in order to put the 35-year-old Spaniard under pressure, with the hope that he’ll eventually crack. As this didn’t happen, it wasn’t difficult for the Movistar cyclist to manage the race, especially in the last kilometers, cover the attacks and eventually claim his third victory in “La Doyenne”, which helped him achieve the prestigious Flèche Wallonne – Liège–Bastogne–Liège double for the second time in his career, a performance only Kubler has accomplished in the past.