Alejandro Valverde on retiring at Il Lombardia: ‘I am leaving cycling at my maximum level’

Valverde on his legacy: 'I gave everything so the fans could enjoy cycling.'

Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

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Alejandro Valverde fires his “last bullet” — la última bala — this weekend at Il Lombardia.

Valverde will be a favorite for the fifth and final monument of the 2022 season, which will be the last for the Spanish star whose career started in 2002.

Valverde said he wouldn’t want to have it any other way in his last day in the saddle with Team Movistar.

“I leave cycling at the ideal moment, at my maximum level,” Valverde said in a media call. “I’ve only had such a high level on just a few occasions. I am retiring at the best time.”

The 42-year-old never won the Italian monument across his sometimes controversial career but finished second three times in 10 starts.

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He’s hoping to end his professional racing days with one more victory, and he will bring winning form to the climb-heavy course Saturday between Bergamo and Como in northern Italy.

Valverde pedals into Saturday’s adios hot off a string of top results, including second at Coppa Agostini, fourth at Giro dell’Emilia, and third at Tre Valli Varesine.

“Now we have Lombardia on Saturday. If everything goes well then I will be one of the favorites,” Valverde said. “Of course, that depends on the race and how I’m feeling, but right now I feel like I can try to win the race. And I like the route this year before than the others.”

Valverde: ‘I gave everything so the fans could enjoy cycling’

Valverde and Nibali call time on their careers together Saturday (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Valverde turned pro with Kelme in 2002 but joined Movistar in 2005. He’s been at the center of Spain’s lone WorldTour team ever since.

As the team quietly builds for a future in the post-Valverde era, with Enric Mas and other Spanish riders stepping up, Valverde will remain with the team in 2023 in an advisory role.

Valverde’s legacy will be determined by who is being asked. For some, he’s an example of resilience and professionalism. For others, the shadow of Operación Puerto and a two-year ban will forever taint his track record.

Valverde said that’s for others to decide.

“I am not the one who should say this,” Valverde told AS when asked about his legacy. “I would say that cycling is losing a great cyclist who gave everything so that the public can enjoy cycling, gave everything for his team and for himself.”

Many in Spanish cycling will miss watching Valverde, the last of Spain’s famed “Spanish Armada” that included the likes of Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre, Óscar Freire, Samuel Sánchez, and Joaquin Rodríguez who lit up the first two decades of the 2000s.

Valverde is the last, but he says there’s plenty coming up from the base.

“Now there are new Spanish cyclists coming up whom the public can celebrate,” Valverde said. “[Juan] Ayuso and Carlos [Rodríguez] are both very good riders. But we also have Enric Mas, who has demonstrated that he’s on that level or even higher. We have a good level now in Spanish cycling.”

Even if he doesn’t win Saturday, Valverde can boast 133 victories on his palmarès, including a world title, podiums and stage wins in all three grand tours, including overall victory at the Vuelta a España. He won four editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and five times La Flèche Wallonne.

“My calendar? I wouldn’t change a thing,” Valverde said. “Even if I don’t do anything Saturday at Lombardia, I leave with a good taste in my mouth after my last races have been fantastic.”

Valverde said he leaves the sport with his head held high, and with no regrets.

“To win something else? It’s hard to say because I won almost everything,” he said with a laugh. “To hit the podium in the Tour was almost like winning, and to win the world title made it for.”

Valverde is racing to win Saturday, and he says he couldn’t script a better ending to his pro career.

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