Reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde is relaxed ahead of his title defence at the Yorkshire World Championships. In many ways, the rainbow bands in Innsbruck last year capped off a career that has seen the Spaniard win the overall at the Vuelta a España, stage wins in all three Grand Tours, as well as a truckload of Classics.
However, at 39 years old he has just ridden to second at this year’s Spanish Grand Tour, finishing only a couple of minutes off Slovenia’s Primož Roglič, which would suggest Valverde isn’t done quite yet.
“Last year went very well, as good as it gets, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this year will be as good,” Valverde said, keeping expectations manageable. “We realised that meeting and coming together a week before the competition [last year] was great, whether you won or not, so this year we are trying to do the same.”
Replicating the routine that won you the rainbow bands last year is a logical first step to keeping the jersey for another year, but the road race in Yorkshire will present a different challenge to the Austrian course in Innsbruck.
“The race is going to break down, that’s for sure,” Valverede said. “It’s 287km and it will be a demanding race. The weather is going to be an important factor, as it usually rains a lot in the area, and if it rains, the circuit will be much harder.
“The itinerary is not has hard as it was last year, but in the end, with the accumulated kilometres and an altitude drop of 4,000 metres, it will definitely be a demanding race. The group arriving will be small and, also, there’s a slight slope at the arrival, which is much better for me. We are realistic, though, we know the other teams come prepared and we know it’s going to be difficult.”
But how does the Spaniard gauge his chances? Last year he beat Romain Bardet (France), Michael Woods (Canada) and (Tom Dumoulin) in the sprint for the line, a star-studded final selection of climbing talent. This year, however, the victory is expected to go to a faster man, such as Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) or three-time champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia).
Alongside the slight slope to the line, Valverde is hoping that his improvement in Vuelta performance this year will correlate to a second Worlds win.
“I feel great, optimistic, I’m looking forward to it. Last year I ended up more tired after the Vuelta, but we had two weeks afterwards and I had time to recover,” Valverde said. “This year I finished better. Let’s see how it goes and do our best, the Spanish team is in great form and that’s it.”