Alejandro Valverde has announced his program for the early part of his very last season (no, really) as a professional cyclist. As he builds towards a final Giro d’Italia, the veteran is targeting a few big one-day Classics – including Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Flèche Wallonne, which he’s won four and five times respectively – interspersed with stage races to ride himself into form.
“I’ll start in Mallorca, then Valencia, Murcia and Andalusia for Strade Bianche,” Valverde told Marca. “After that I’ll catch my breath and that’s why I don’t know yet whether I’ll do Catalunya or Basque Country for Flèche Wallonne and Liège. Amstel is a bit in the middle, so I’ll do those races for the Giro. Each of these races is difficult to win, but in Liège, for example, you always have to pay attention if you want to have a chance, and in Flèche Wallonne you can’t make a mistake.”
After reversing earlier plans to retire, the 41-year-old this year announced that he will finally, truly hang up his wheels at the end of 2022, ending a professional career that began in 2002 – when Tadej Pogačar was four and Remco Evenepoel was a toddler. This time, though, it’s set in stone.
“It is 100 percent irreversible. It’s my last year no matter what,” Valverde promised. “There are several reasons for this: I have raced at the highest level for many years and, although I really love my sport, in the end it is a huge sacrifice to be a professional. The mental and physical effort is great. [I’ll be] 42 years old and we won’t stay here forever. You have to take care of your body.”
As Valverde lays out his path to the Giro d’Italia – which he’s only raced once before in 2016 – his team prepares for a future without their prolific winner and figurehead. With Valverde no longer racing, more responsibility will be laid at the feet of Enric Mas and new signing Iván Sosa, who transfers from the Ineos Grenadiers for 2022.
“Enric [Mas] looks much more experienced and confident,” Valverde said of his young teammate who is growing into the role of Grand Tour leader. “I think he is making important steps little by little. He will certainly do well. As far as Iván [Sosa] is concerned, we have high expectations for him. He has a lot of quality. He won twice in Burgos and in 2019 he almost kept me from winning in in Occitanie. He will do well. Sosa is ready to lead the team.”
Valverde’s last season in the pro ranks gets underway at the Trofeo Calva on January 26, the first of five races that make up the Challenge Mallorca. He’ll stay on home soil until taking on Strade Bianche in early March, and then he’ll head north for the hilly Classics after a touch of stage racing. The Giro is next, and he’s opted not to ride the Tour de France again, choosing instead to end his Grand Tour career at the Vuelta a España – a fitting finale.