Valverde: ‘I was afraid I’d never get the rainbow jersey, but this proves old cyclists can still win’

The 38-year-old had feared he may have missed his chance

Alejandro Valverde, winner of the 2018 World Championships road race (Image: Sunada)

Spain's Alejandro Valverde commented "old cyclists can still win" after he claimed the rainbow jersey in Innsbruck, sprinting ahead of Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) to world championship glory.

The 38-year-old added a rainbow jersey to a professional career spanning back to 2002, including a brief stop for a doping suspension.

"I didn't know that I was the second oldest world champion but that means old cyclists can still win," Valverde said after the Austrian race.

Valverde raced first with Kelme in 2002. He won the Vuelta a España in 2009 and placed third overall in both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.

Hailing from Murcia in Spain's southeast, Valverde ruled the Ardennes in Belgium winning the Flèche Wallonne five times and Liège-Bastogne-Liège four times.

He lacked a rainbow jersey, though, after already taking silver twice and the bronze medal four times.

"The world championship and the Tour de France were the races I dreamt of winning. It didn't work out at the Tour but finally, I'm the world champion," he said.

"It's not the first time I've cried after winning a bike race but this is the most emotional because many times I've been afraid that I'd never get the rainbow jersey."

Valverde made the move with Frenchman Bardet, Canadian Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) and bridging later, Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).

"It's just something incredible. There are so many years fighting, fighting, and finally, I achieved it," he continued.

"In the end, I managed to get into the group and measure my sprint. It's something just incredible. It was a long sprint and they [the team] put all the responsibility on me. When we got to 300m, I said, 'This is my distance.' I went full-gas and finally I could achieve this victory.

"This win is for the entire team, for everyone who has been supporting me my entire career. I am without words because I cannot believe it. The world title was a dream for me. Many times I was very close and I have six medals and not one of them was a gold. Finally I could manage to pull it off.

"I knew I couldn't mess it up in the last kilometre. I knew that I could not win and let down the team and everyone else who was supporting me. It's a tremendous feeling."

Valverde served a two-year ban for being caught in the Operación Puerto, a blood transfusion doping ring. The ban ran from January 1, 2010, to December 31, stripping some previous results including the Tour de Romandie overall.

Now in the rainbow jersey, he said he could debut it in competition at Il Lombardia on October 13.