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Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner's story, April 28, 2008
Valverde keeps winning while real objectives are still to come
By Brecht Decaluwé in Ans
After celebrating his 28th birthday last Friday, Alejandro Valverde gave himself the perfect present by claiming his second victory in 'La Doyenne', as the final event of the Spring Classics is often referred to. The Spaniard from Murcia beat Davide Rebellin and Fränk Schleck in a three-man sprint, but unlike his 2006 victory, Valverde said he didn't feel like the strongest rider today.
"Fränk Schleck was the strongest man in the race this time," said the Caisse d'Epargne rider. "He has got phenomenal form right now which he showed already in the Amstel Gold Race. Today he was unlucky that Rebellin and I were faster than him."
Valverde's devastating sprint once again proved to be the decisive weapon in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, just like two years ago. "Surely my experience helped me today," he said. "I won here in 2006 and came second last year. Knowing the roads helped me to save my energy for the moments that it really mattered during the finale."
Valverde explained that one of those key moments was the new climb: the Côte de le Roche aux Faucons. "That climb made the difference today. During the first part you only had to stay near the front as it wasn't possible to create a gap there. On the second steeper part I arrived with all my forces and I felt really good so I could make the difference."
On that penultimate climb, the eventual winner reacted to attacks from Davide Rebellin, Fränk Schleck and his team-mate Joaquin Rodriguez. "I focused my race on Cadel Evans and Damiano Cunego but when I noticed they were unable to follow the attack on the new climb I jumped away myself. I was surprised but since it had been a long and tough race in the sun they might have been a bit dehydrated."
Valverde ended up riding up front with Rodriguez, Rebellin and the Schleck brothers. And when Rodriguez got dropped on a non-classified climb towards the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the Spaniard wasn't in the best position to claim the win. "Surely I feared them at first as it was the two of them against Davide Rebellin and me," he explained. "When Andy attacked, Rebellin and I agreed to work together to get him back.
"I wasn't riding up to my limit because I knew that the two of us together would be stronger than him alone. His lead didn't grow bigger than 12 seconds and knowing that the Saint-Nicolas was still to come, I knew we would catch him eventually," Valverde explained.
"Meanwhile my directeur sportif reminded me to keep eating; just like he and my team-mates did all day long: eat, eat, eat!" Valverde laughed.
As he crossed the line, Valverde showed a great outburst of emotion; not something he does often in races. "More than the will to show something today, I had the desire to win the race for the team on this international level," he said. "Actually this win made me happier than my victory two years ago."
A difference from other years is that the man from Murcia didn't set the Ardennes Classics as a real objective. His main targets are the Tour de France and afterwards the Olympic road race and world championships. "It's true that I have a different preparation this year," said Valverde. "I didn't ride as many races as I am used to do but I trained a lot instead. The weather conditions in Murcia have been great since the start of the year and I could train in perfect circumstances.
"The only stage race I did was the Vuelta a Murcia, and as a result I show up at the races more motivated than usual because I like to be in the competition. The Ardennes Classics weren't a real objective this year but that helped me to start here in tranquillity and with less pressure, and it helped me to make the difference in the end."
With Alberto Contador and his Astana team not invited to the Tour de France, the Spanish hopes are resting on the shoulders of Alejandro Valverde, but the Spaniard has tried to keep the pressure at bay by insisting there are other Spanish riders who could do well at the Tour. "It's true there will be more pressure as our team will have to take the responsibility in the race," he acknowledged. "On the other hand there are guys like Oscar Pereiro and [Carlos] Sastre who have proven their ability in the past. Anyway, I have the pressure on my shoulders in all races that I start, so not too much is changing," Valverde smiled.
Once again he was asked about his alleged involvement in the Operación Puerto case and its reopening by the Italian authorities, and once again reiterated his innocence. "It's pretty clear to me," he said, "my so-called involvement in the Puerto case is something that has been invented by the press. I was never questioned by the Spanish judge. If an Italian judge wants to ask me questions about a case I would have no problem to do that."
Valverde now takes a week-long break and will then continue to prepare for his real objectives later this season. He will do a couple of training camps before returning to competition at the Classico Alcobendas and the Dauphiné Libéré. The Spanish national championships will be his final race before the start of the Tour de France.