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Valverde — whose hometown of Murcia and favored training ground in the Sierra de Espuña was near Wednesday’s start — received rousing cheers from the partisan crowds.
“It was a beautiful day, but it was quite long in the end. There was a lot of heat and a bit slower than normal with a strong headwind,” Valverde said. “We went about 7kph slower than we usually do due to the wind. The most important thing is that we injured ‘our’ local landscapes and that’s OK.
“The welcome from my ‘people’ gave me a big push, I’ve always felt loved by the fans,” Valverde said. “This Vuelta is becoming very special for me because it’s my last.”
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Valverde, 42, is racing his final grand tour, and will retire later this season.
After winning early in the 2022, Valverde admits he’s not in the condition he would have liked for his final Vuelta.
With Movistar teammate Enric Mas riding within podium range, he’s willing sacrifice his ambitions for the good of the team.
“Winning a stage is one of my objectives, but we have to look at the GC with Mas,” Valverde told MARCA. “We have to take it day by day. I know I can win, but it won’t be easy.”
Valverde returns to Peñas Blancas in Thursday’s stage, where he won a stage during the Ruta del Sol. The finale is higher and longer than when he won there in 2016.
“It will be a big day. The first part isn’t flat at all, and there are a lot of little kickers in the first 50 to 60km, and it will take awhile for a breakaway to stick,” Valverde said. “Peñas Blancas isn’t so hard in terms of steepness but for how long it is. It goes even higher than when I won there at the Ruta del Sol. The rhythm can be ‘Dantesque.'”