“Alejandro Valverde deserves this title,” Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet has said after the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, despite the Spaniard’s doping ban, 10 years ago.
The Spaniard, 38, won the world rainbow jersey on Sunday. He emerged over the last climb in a four-man attack group, and won the sprint ahead of Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).
With Valverde donning the rainbow jersey, critics immediately commented on the darker Operación Puerto days – which resulted in a two year doping ban for the Spaniard.
“I don’t think you should give a lot of weight to his past,” Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) told Het Nieuwsblad.
“He is so consistent in his performances. I don’t think he is still doing that sort of stuff.”
Valverde served his ban after he was found to be part of a blood doping ring. The backdated suspension covered the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and saw his results including the 2010 Tour de Romandie stripped.
He returned in 2012, just as he’d been before the ban: a smart, tactical and quick cyclist.
“Valverde deserves this title. He had been on the podium so often in the worlds. I am very satisfied with him, he is the best rider of his generation. He had to wait a long time and this was his last chance and he grabbed it,” 2016 Olympic road race champion Van Avermant said.
“This is pure talent, and he is there from February to now. That is a sign of pure talent, a real classic rider. He is a deserved winner.”
The UCI governing body called it an “incredible finish for Alejandro Valverde.”
The UCI’s attitude has changed since 2007, when it tried to block Valverde from racing the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
Valverde was one of several riders caught up in Spain’s Operación Puerto scandal that erupted in 2006, when police found around 200 stored blood bags. The Spanish federation backed him and he raced in Stuttgart, placing second. The result now counts as one of Valverde’s two silver medals and sits alongside four bronze medals.
Italy pursued the case – the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) used DNA evidence it collected from Valverde when the Tour de France passed Italy in 2008. It matched it to some of the coded blood bags seized by Spanish police in May 2006.
The result led to an Italy-wide ban and then, after a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling, a global two-year ban from January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2011. Team Movistar, then known as Caisse d’Epargne, continued to back Valverde by lending him a bike and kit to use during his suspension. It tried to present him with its 2012 team over a month before his ban ended, which the UCI blocked.
When he returned, Valverde said, “There will be some that are happy and some that are not.”
Others involved in Operación Puerto like Jan Ullrich never raced again. Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Jörg Jaksche, Tyler Hamilton, Mario Cipollini were also linked in the case.
Dumoulin, who commented on Chris Froome’s asthma case over the last year, was “in no mood” to reflect on Valverde’s past. Instead, he recognised a “sharp” cyclist.
“I tried to surprise the other three with a tactical attack, but Valverde was so sharp and so good that he knew it right away. It’s a pity, to finish just off the podium,” Dumoulin told NU Sport after placing fourth place.
“I always find it difficult to comment on that [Valverde’s past]. And I’m in no mood for sour headlines after a very beautiful worlds.”