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The 42-year-old will fire his “última bala” — last bullet — with ambitions of at least one more stage win while downplaying any GC dreams.
“To win a stage would be incredible,” Valverde said Thursday. “I don’t believe I will be at the same level as the best during 21 days, but we do have a teammate who can be among the top three or perhaps even win. What I see for myself is that I will try to win a stage.”
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The Movistar captain cited a hit-and-run incident in July as well as bronchitis as hurdles in his preparation for the Vuelta, and said he’s not quite in the shape he would have preferred in what he vows is his final race.
“I felt good at the start of the season, but later not so great,” he said. “Now, I want to be at the Vuelta at a good level, but it will be my last grand tour, for sure.”
Valverde expects a mix of emotions as he confronts the closing race days of his long career dating back to the 2002 season. His final races remain uncertain, and there’s a possibility he will race the world championships and the fall classics in Italy.
Valverde is the last of Spain’s “golden generation” that also included the likes of Alberto Contador, Óscar Freire, Carlos Sastre, Joaquim Rodríguez, and Samuel Sánchez.
In 15 previous Vuelta starts, he’s won 12 Vuelta stages, won the overall in 2009 in his lone grand tour victory, and finished on the podium on six other occasions.
“As the season has unfolded I am realizing more and more that this is going to be my last year,” he said. “There are a lot of memories. For example, this Vuelta starts in Holland, and the last time it left from there, I won [in 2009]. But now Enric is there as a teammate, and I told him now it’s his time.”
Valverde confirmed — again — that the 2022 season will be his last. He will stay on with Movistar for two more seasons in an undefined role, but it won’t be racing his bike.
Valverde vows to remain professional in his final days on the bike, and that means racing for the win.
“It’s going to be difficult because there are 20 years on the bike as a professional, but I think I will get through it OK,” he said. “I’ll be at home more with the family. I have two years with the team, with another role, but I am going to enjoy it. My head is telling me that I should not suffer so much, to enjoy the bike in another way. Not everything is cycling. There’s more to life.”
Enric Mas taking it ‘day by day’
Enric Mas, who was forced out of the Tour de France, said he’s not putting limits on his GC potential, but at the same time doesn’t know how well he will go.
“We’ll take it day by day and we’ll see how I respond during the Vuelta,” Mas said. “We did a small ‘re-set’ since the Tour. I had a week off and then some training, now we’re here since Monday.
“We’re hoping we can get things back to the same ‘Enric Mas’ as before,” he said. “I hope to enjoy the race, and after the hard moments during the Tour, let’s see how my legs respond. There was nothing easy about the 2022 Tour for me.”
Mas rode into the top 10 midway through the Tour but later struggled before abandoning with a case of COVID-19.
“For the GC, we’ll see. I hope things can go well, but considering everything that’s happened with COVID, I wasn’t really sure I would be able to race the Vuelta,” he said. “But we made the decision to race, and we’ll see how things go.”