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Ageless Valverde still ‘very young in the head’

Spanish veteran hoping his path to Olympic gold may include a second rainbow jersey.

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Alejandro Valverde may already have 18 years of pro racing in the legs, but he feels he has plenty more to give.

With retirement off the cards for the near future as he holds out another year for the Tokyo Olympics, Valverde feels young as ever. While his dream of grabbing gold at the fifth Games of his career is on pause for 12 months after the Olympic coronavirus postponement, Valverde is setting his sights on a second rainbow jersey this season. And although he may have ticked into his forties this spring, the Spaniard isn’t feeling his age just yet.

“I feel good, I have desire and enthusiasm,” Valverde said Monday. “I am 40 years old, but I’m very young in my head and we are going to do what we can on the calendar as best we can.”

With the clock now ticking on the restart of WorldTour racing August 1, Valverde has less than five weeks until his first major goals at Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo. Having opted for a lighter training schedule as he waited out Spain’s coronavirus lockdown, Valverde has no worries that he’ll be off the back of the peloton by the time he starts the Tour de France August 29.

“After hitting the road for a month I have been training normally. I do not think there will be big differences,” Valverde said when asked if there will be a “two-speed peloton” resulting from the varying training conditions across the globe through the peak of the coronavirus crisis.

“We will all be very similar,” he said. If the Tour had started 20 days after confinement, surely there would have been two speeds. We may even see him in the first few races, a little, but not on the Tour.”

Valverde heads to this year’s Tour adding experience to a new-look, youthful, Movistar team. Following the exit of Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana at the start of the season, the Spanish outfit is looking to home stars Enric Mas and Marc Soler for its future GC hopes. Mas will be leading the GC challenge for Movistar in France this summer, and Valverde will be looking to add an experienced ballast to complement his 25-year-old teammate.

Rather than joining in the fight for the yellow jersey himself, Valverde will be using the Tour to build form for a Swiss-hosted worlds packed with steep climbs tailor-made for his skillset. Falling just one week after the conclusion of the Tour, the Aigle-Martigny event comes at the perfect time for Valverde.

“I think the Tour can be a great preparation for the world championships,” Valverde told Ciclo21. “You will hardly have to train to get well [for the worlds].”

Alejandro Valverde
A second world championship title is in the front of Valverde’s mind for 2020. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

While Valverde is going all-in for the rainbow jersey this year, the Olympic flame still burns bright, and motivates the Spaniard to keep his legs turning though 2021. When asked whether he’d choose a second world championship title or Olympic Gold, he drew a blank. “It is a very difficult question,” he said. “I have already been a world champion, but it is always a pleasure to be one more than once. I have never been an Olympic champion, so I would still choose it, but I don’t know.”

After the worlds September 27, Valverde is keeping his options open. The packed 2020 season affords riders little downtime and sees the Ardennes classics falling shortly before the Vuelta a España. Valverde may be forced to make a call between the two depending on how the legs are holding up.

“You have to hold form for a long time,” he said. “We will finish the Tour, we will do our best at the world championships, and then we will see if I focus 100 percent on Liège, or if I rest a bit thinking about the Vuelta. We will see how we do it.”

Once 2020 is out, Valverde will set his sights firmly on the Tokyo Olympics, and then the question of retirement will rear its head once again. While the notion of hanging up the wheels is on Valverde’s mind, he’s not deliberating over it too much just yet.

“Yes, it is something that I have been thinking about and that I see as very possible,” he said. “I continue with the idea of ​​finishing this year, passing the next and then I will evaluate. I have it in my head. I feel empowered to give more to cycling.”

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