Saturday, March 19, 2005


Valverde Out To See the World

A few days ago I wrote that, now that he’s achieved his first win outside of his native Spain at Paris-Nice, all-rounder Alejandro Valverde (Illes Belears) was set to be unleashed on the broader cycling world. Apparently, Valverde beat me to the punch on that prediction, announcing on Tuesday that he would be targeting all of the spring classics, save Paris-Roubaix. From the Amstel Gold Race website:

This spring, Alejandro Valverde will ride in all the cycling classics except Paris-Roubaix. The last few years, the Spaniard never rode in the first World Cup races. However, because of his second place in the World Championship in Hamilton and his leading role in supporting Oscar Freire in the World Championship in Verona, he believes he could win. "I hope I can attack on the Poggio in Milan-San Remo. I have a lot of doubts about the Tour of Flanders. The Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche Wallonne should suit me," says the leader of Illes Balears.

At last, a generation of Spaniards are emerging who realize there is more to racing than the Vuelta, the Tour, and week long stage races. Together with currently wounded former world champion Igor Astarloa (Barloworld) and formerly wounded current world champion Oscar Friere (Rabobank), Valverde might finally change the image of Spanish riders in the northern classics—from skinny, shivering, pissed-off second stringers sent north as sacrificial lambs to genuine contenders for the victory. That said, Valverde is right not to get his hopes up for the cobbled classics, as the smoother, rolling roads of Ardennes week have always been kinder to stage-race crossover than Flanders' jarring bergs.

Before he jets too far north, however, Valverde will get his first taste of the classics on Sunday at Milan-San Remo. He could have the right combination of sprinting prowess and explosiveness on the Cipressa and Poggio climbs to make him a factor in a diminished bunch sprint on the Via Roma--a situation that would likely put him in a face-off with five-time winner Erik Zabel (T-Mobil), countryman Friere, and possibly Paulo Bettini (Quick.Step), who has had a quiet spring thus far. But if Petacchi's (Fassa Bartolo) and Cipollini's (Liquigas) teams reign things in enough for them to make it over those hurdles with the bunch, Valverde's elbows and top end speed aren't quite sharp enough to take out a full bunch gallop.

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