The heroes of La Vuelta (1/6) Alejandro Valverde
August 7 th 2021 - 11:30 [GMT + 2]
Alejandro Valverde's name naturally emerges among the heroes of La Vuelta as an example of longevity, at 41 years old, eighteen years after his first stage victory!
When the Tour de France made a stopover in the Principality of Andorra last month, the race was still to cross the border, through the Port d'Envalira, when the chroniclers already recalled it was the place where Alejandro Valverde had won his first stage on a Grand Tour: La Vuelta. The event took place on September 14th, 2003, at the end of a stage that started from Vielha. The Murcian emerged from a ten rider group at the last minute, including overall leader Isidro Nozal. It was his second participation in La Vuelta, in his second pro season, with Kelme-Costa Blanca. Before abandoning the first, contested at the age of 22, during the 15th stage leading to the Alto de l'Angliru, he had obtained his first result in Cordoba (stage 9), where La Vuelta 21 returns (stage 12). He was 4th on the occasion, outsprinting Erik Zabel behind three breakaway riders. The winner of the day, Pablo Lastras, is now one of his sports directors at Movistar.
The Port of Envalira allowed him to show his ability to display such speed at high altitude as well. His declarations on the spot offer a view on how far he's come eighteen years later: “Winning here in La Vuelta is the best thing that has happened to me so far in my career” he said. “I am really happy. I dedicate it to all those who support me, to the team […]. Now I have made it happen. The rest is a bonus. I cried because I didn't expect to win such a stage. I don't know my limits yet." The emergence of a new generation? "That is true. Here we are, Isidro Nozal, Joaquim Rodriguez and myself. It's good for cycling that there is a succession."
Other successes since then have brought tears to Spain's greatest cyclist of all time - at least through the eclecticism of his record. We saw him in a trance in a tent in Innsbruck before speaking in a flash interview after his victory at the 2018 World Championship. He was still moved at Mas de la Costa for his last victory at La Vuelta, to date, wearing the rainbow jersey when he had just defeated Primoz Roglic, Miguel Angel Lopez and Nairo Quintana (stage 7 in 2019).
Put in numbers, the relationship between Alejandro Valverde and La Vuelta weighs: 14 participations, a final victory (2009), 7 times on the final podium, 4 victories in the points classification (2012, 2013, 2015, 2018), 12 stage wins, 27 days wearing the leader's jersey, only one abandon (as a rookie). For Javier Guillén, director of La Vuelta, the champion is an essential figure, “not only in cycling, but for sport in general. Valverde surpasses his winning record, which is already unrivaled in itself. It’s a constant smile, the embodiment of effort, the loyalty to a team and a race, his involvement for the fans… Alejandro is one of the most important figures in Spanish sport in the 21st century.” His second place on the Tour de France in Andorra, behind the American Sepp Kuss, on July 11th, indicates that his harvest on the Spanish round is not necessarily over, but whatever happens between Burgos and Saint-Jacques -de-Compostela, his mark will forever remain in the history of the event.