There are many things about Alejandro Valverde that might be described as “implausible”.
There’s that near-bald pate masquerading as a head of hair, the consistently high quality of the gunslinger stubble, and the, ahem…history. You know the one. It’s the same history that many pro cyclists from the early noughties have to reckon with.
Only in Valverde’s case it’s largely un-acknowledged.
Which brings us to the other implausible – those thirty-eight years of age.
Not, in itself, an uncommon age for a Spanish human to successfully achieve. The unusual bit is the way he still wins bike races like a man many years younger.
Even as I write this I can feel my eyebrows straining to raise themselves involuntarily.
He has the guile and craft of a wily old pro – a brutal pragmatism combined with a mastery of mind games – firmly attached to the body of a cyclist in his prime. He demonstrated this today, yet again, in dispatching Michal Kwiatkowski into a second place that perhaps should rightfully have been his.
As Laurens De Plus, the obligatory late attacker from the Quick Step team, burst clear with a kilometre to go, the peloton watched, and waited. Valverde, finally, could wait no more, and chased him down, helpfully towing along Kwiatkowski in the process. The Pole’s job was then to sit on the Spaniard’s wheel and jump clear for the win.
Kwiatkowski went, hoping Valverde had shot his bolt, and perhaps encouraged and cajoled to do so via some subtle and unseen piece of psychology from our man. The Spaniard had another effort left, latched on to his wheel, and gave it one final burst of wattage to take the win.
Masterclass.Embed from Getty Images
Kwiatkowski got the runners up prize – the red jersey of race leader – while Valverde took the glory of the stage.
At thirty-eight years of age, remember.
To put that in context your average hippopotamus in the wild would be considering taking it’s terminal breath around about now. But not Alejandro. Which just shows what can be achieved with commitment, talent, access to high quality sports science, and a body that is beautifully well designed for the act of riding a bike.
In the end Kwiatkowski never stood a chance.
Neither did the hippo.
You know who else never stood a chance?
With his terrible misfortune revealing itself in the form of pre-race gastroenteritis he found himself several minutes back in the company of stage one winner Rohan Dennis.
This was partly due to a coordinated two-pronged double-team effort from Movistar and Sky, the teams of Valverde and Kwiatkowski. As the stage entered the final thirty kilometres they, in tandem, upped the pace, before nudging it slightly higher, and then accelerating away from any other rider not on tip-top form.
Riders were shelled out the back like high speed peas into a crisp spring salad; we’re talking Porte, Dennis, Adam Yates, Nibali, Sagan.
Tough day on the bike.
The Vuelta used to be known for a near-holiday camp atmosphere and some lovely relaxed racing. No more. Unless your idea of a holiday is physical pain and mental torment.
Which it clearly is, if I’ve judged him correctly, for Valverde.
(Top Image: tonan111 via deviantart.com)