The easy option would be to describe Alejandro Valverde as a “Marmite” cyclist. But that would be playing right into the hands of the marketing people at Unilever, who have us evoking their product every time we encounter a thing that provokes a response in people, one way or another.
Those clever bastards.
I won’t play their game.
Instead, I will direct you towards the Cambridge dictionary and their definition of a word which nestles quietly in the “C” section, ready and waiting to pepper our conversation with implications of intelligence.
Caveat; noun. a warning to consider something before taking any more action
It’s a word that I first noticed in the early noughties. It was a time when, as Tony Blair and George W Bush did their best to sell the Iraq war to the western world, every public utterance appeared to require a caveat.
It was a form of linguistic gymnastics, designed to absolve everyone involved of any blame at all times.
Now, I’m not for a moment comparing Valverde to Tony Blair. All the evidence suggests the Spaniard had little or no involvement in starting that war.
Having said that, and in the interests of balance, I have to point out that neither was Tony Blair implicated in Operacion Puerto, the big doping scandal that hit pro cycling back in 2006. Until such time as the Spanish courts release the mystery blood bags for re-analysis Blair remains innocent until proven otherwise.
All of which is my rather roundabout way of saying that passing comment on Alejandro Valverde – thirty-eight-year-old cyclist, doper who refuses to publicly acknowledge his past, and still regular winner of World Tour pro bike races – is complicated.
Everything needs a caveat.
Take stage eight, today.
In fact, take the whole of his Vuelta thus far.Embed from Getty Images
Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could just sing from the rooftops about this man and his performances? His relentless competitiveness. His longevity. His ability to break a knee cap at the age of thirty-seven (at the Tour de France of 2017) and recover, barely missing a pedal stroke, to win prolifically again in 2018.
But we can’t, because our common sense flicks our ear and jabs us in the ribs and gives us the look.
The fact that he’s never offered meaningful public comment on his ban between 2010 and 2012 for doping offences means that we, the fans, haven’t squared his past in our minds.
How can we even begin to square his present?
Today, after chasing down a three-man break in sweltering thirty-eight-degree conditions the riders were faced with a tough uphill sprint finish in the town of Almaden.
At the sharp end we had a clutch of sprinters who can climb and climbers who can sprint – a mixed bag.
In the final hundred metres Peter Sagan burst clear – when he does that, no-one ever catches him. But in his wake Valverde was delivering a masterclass. The ageing Movistar man leapt from the chasing pack, snatched Sagan’s wheel briefly, and then surged past for the win.
It was stunning.
But it was Valverde.
Bursting past Sagan with a giant virtual asterisk hanging over his head. Cheers from some, raised eyebrows from others. None of us any closer to knowing what to think.
(Valverde Image: Laurie Beylier via Flickr cc)