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A few weeks ago Alejandro Valverde agreed to an interview where the questions were asked by you, the readers of Cycling Tips. As you all know, Alejandro is under a two year suspension for his involvement in Operación Puerto. He has contested the decision, is fighting to prove he’s innocent, and has announced that he is launching a lawsuit against CONI’s anti-doping prosecutor Ettore Torri .
Thank you to Jarrod Partridge (from Cycling Tribe) for conducting this interview. Alejandro’s English is limited so this had to be translated. It’s difficult to dig too deep and have a good dialogue under these circumstances, but I’m pleased with Alejandro’s openness with us.
If you have any follow-up questions for Alejandro please feel free to post them in the comments section under the post. I’ll do my best to invite him over here to clarify.
CT. As a rider I love the adrenaline rush I get when competing, especially in the closing kilometre of a road race. Your stage 1 victory of the 2008 Tour De France from Brest to Plumelec is still one of my all time favorite stage finishes to watch. Did you ever think coming into the final bend with 300m to go that Kim Kirchen had stolen the victory? -Pete
AV. This is indeed one of the most beautiful victories of my career. Also because it gave me the opportunity to wear the yellow jersey. I was feeling very well that day and I knew the final by heart. I knew where I had to attack and also that Kirchen did it too early.
CT. When did you first realise you had what it took to be a pro? You hear stories of top Pro riders as juniors and young seniors dominating at domestic level on barely any training. I think it’s largely mythology and urban legend, but I’m interested to know what that realisation feels like, and how it comes for a world class pro. Stories of creaming your local chain gang on a rusty old bike, age 13, would be great! -On_the_rivet
AV. I have always been attracted by sport. I started doing athletics at school but because my father and my uncle were real cycling fans who rode their bike each week-end (my father competed with the amateurs) I decided to imitate them and went with them on their rides.
I started competing myself when I was 9 years old. I finished at the second place in the first race I took part in and won the second one. From that day I never stopped winning races. I knew I wanted to become a professional rider but of course I also knew it was a long way before making my dream come true.
CT. Describe Neil Stephens’ influence on the Caisse D’Epargne team. -Psychlist
AV. Neil is a great director, a very experienced one. He is very organized and professional. That is very important to direct a team. He was a rider himself so he also knows what you think, how you feel. He is very human and that is also important to motivate the riders.
CT. Your positioning and setup on the bike has always looked ‘perfect’. How did you get your positioning to look so textbook? -Pete
AV. I don’t know if it is perfect but I worked a lot to make it as perfect as possible. It is true that I feel very well on my bike but I am also very perfectionist and try to improve my position all the time most of all in the time trials.
CT. I’d like to ask about timing of attacks. You’re similar to Rebellin, in my opinion, in that he’d usually only make one attack, but make it stick. What goes through your mind when making an attack – how do you choose the time? Is it just gut feeling, or is it an analysis of the strength of the opposition, wind, distance to finish, parcours. Do you plan attacks in advance on the road? -Bob
AV. There is of course a good part of feeling the race in it but it is also important to study all the other elements. I like to look at my adversaries to check how fresh they are. Of course I also study the route in advance. It is very important to know how and when you should attack but as I told you most of the time it is a question of feeling: I just know this is the right moment to attack.
CT. How do you train to have such great climbing ability and aerobic capabilities, yet still have such a fast finishing kick? –Alex_26
AV. I am very fortunate because I don’t have to train too much to be in good shape. I am not a pure climber but I can manage with most of the difficult climbs. I use to train a lot in altitude in Sierra Nevada. That is very important most of all in order to prepare a three weeks race. It is true that I am also very fast. At the beginning of my career I was also very fast in massive sprint but becoming older and now with three children I prefer not to take too many risks any more in bunch sprint.
CT. If the two year ban remains, how do you see yourself becoming a better bike racer when you can’t race? How do you think it affects your potential to be a Tour De France contender? -Nick D’Ambrosio
AV. I keep on training every day exactly the same way I did when I could race. I also have exactly the same way of living; I keep on caring about what I eat. In fact my life is exactly the same it was before the ban except the fact that I don’t compete. So I expect I will need only a few races to find the competition rhythm again.
CT. How do you see your case as being different to Basso, i.e. someone who has never failed a test but has been linked to an “intention to dope”? -Notso Swift
AV. Each situation is different and the one case has nothing to do with the other one but I am not there to judge the others. My case has nothing to do with Basso’s one. I am innocent and I will fight till the end to prove it.
CT. What are your thoughts on riders releasing all their values? (blood results, VO2 max, power outputs etc). Surely if a rider has nothing to hide he would freely present his figures and have nothing to worry about. This would strengthen/repair the bond between pro riders and their fans who surely deserve transparency. -Andy, BikePure
AV. I believe everybody is free to do what he wants to with his values even to publish them in the medias if likes to. Anyway I believe it should be sufficient the UCI to know those values. I believe it would be better for cycling and young riders to read about cycling and sporting achievements rather than to read about blood values. Anyway I have nothing to hide and if that is what interests people, why not.
CT. I want to believe you but I don’t understand how you can be innocent if your DNA is linked? Please explain. -Hollywood
AV. My DNA was taken for a reason and used for another one in rather strange circumstances. When I proposed to give my DNA so that it is analysed in a neutral laboratory in Switzerland, the CONI refused that. What else can I say? I believe it is very clear.
editor: further clarification with Alejandro on this point:
“When the ‘trial’ took place in the CAS, Alejandro requested to have the possibility to give his DNA so that it was analyzed in a neutral laboratory in Switzerland under control of the UCI and tha AMA. The Italian CONI denied this right to Alejandro. The CONI used the DNA it took in the Tour de France 2008 within the framework of a normal antidoping control to the team in the hotel when the race came through Italy. They analyzed it by themselves in Italy. To us of course it seems very strange that they did not accept a neutral analyze of Alejandro’s DNA to be done in a neutral laboratory. ”
CT. Do you think Operation Puerto has made cycling cleaner, or just made the cheaters smarter? -GrahamWKidd
AV. It is a difficult question to answer. What I know is that controls are each time more numerous and more specific but I don’t know if they are linked to the Operation Puerto.
CT. What measures would you recommend the various anti-doping authorities should enact to catch cheats? -Mark
AV. I believe the anti-doping authorities know exactly what they have to do and how they have to enact. They developed many new measures like the biological passport for example and I believe they have already results thanks to that.
CT. What is your view on the criminalization of doping worldwide? Would this provide enough of a deterrent? -Alexroseinnes
AV. It is important to deal with that problem but unfortunately I don’t have the key. I believe we have to trust the authorities which are in charge of that problem.
CT. The public view of cycling and doping has changed greatly over the last 12 years. This seems to have now affected the attitude of the whole peloton. Do you feel you are stuck between the OLD way, and the NEW way? How has your attitude toward doping changed in the last 12 months given what you have been through? -James Foran
AV. I don’t know exactly. Of course things have changed over the last 12 years. Everything is changing through the years but I turned a professional rider only 8 years ago so I don’t know how things were 12 years ago. My attitude is the same as it has always been. I am innocent and clean. All the controls I did the last years prove that and I will fight till the end to prove that to everybody.
CT. Alejandro, what keeps you motivated during the tough times, i.e. the last 12 months? -Toneredd
AV. Cycling is all my life. I really adore my sport. I cannot imagine myself without riding my bike. Of course sometimes it was not easy to go for hard training sessions because I had the impression I had a weight of 20 kilos behind me but once I was on my bike I just forgot about everything else.
CT. How can cycling deal with the problem of doping? Are you in favour of lifetime bans? -Specialist
AV. I believe each situation must be analysed separately but anyway there are anti-doping authorities in charge of that problem and we have to trust them and leave them do their job.
CT. Does it frustrate you that without real knowledge or Pro Cycling and evidence that would stand up in a criminal court, people point their righteous finger at you as the “bad guy” but don’t stop to mention that you are a victim of violations to your rights and privacy as a person? -PeterT
AV. Of course. What would you think if you were condemned for something when you know you are innocent and that there are absolutely no proofs against you?
CT. I can close my eyes and feel the sensation of being alive and free that comes with simply riding down the road on my bike, alone or otherwise. Could you please share something of what the feeling of simply riding a bike is for you –Simon Cadzow
AV. I understand your feelings pretty well because I feel exactly the same when I ride my bike. When I am pedaling I forget about everything else. Nothing exists but that wonderful feeling.
CT. Alejandro, thank you for your time and openness in answering these questions. All the best in your court case and getting back to competition.