Dhe can't defy his age either. The collarbones protrude pointedly from under the jersey. The step has slowed down. The kick isn't as explosive anymore either. No, even one Alejandro Valverde cannot stop the hands of the biological clock. The professional cyclist from Murcia is now 42 years old. This Vuelta a España is his last big tour. He does it differently than usual, but at least in style. And he is celebrated by his home crowd.
"Yes, it touches me how people greet me, say goodbye to me. It shows me that I must have given them something," Valverde told the FAZ during his farewell tour. Especially in Murcia, his home region, the affection was enormous. The Vuelta organizers put the start of the eleventh stage there. They also added the Sierra de La Pandera to the course as a tribute to Valverde.
In the style of the "elder statesman"
In 2003 he already won a stage here at the vuelta. Back then, Erik Zabel crossed the finish line in a gruppetto. The Berliner also won the points jersey that year - ahead of Valverde, by the way, with whom he fought a long-distance duel for points at the time. The telecom professional collected in the sprints, Valverde in the hill climbs. This detail alone shows the distant world to which Alejandro Valverde's career stretches back.
This Vuelta a Espana, his 16th, he competed in the style of an "elder statesman". He held audiences in the mixed zone, always saying the same well-chosen words. In the race, he was particularly worried about Enric Mas. With his experience, he helped the 27-year-old compatriot to a place on the podium. "I'm here to help and above all to give him peace of mind," said Valverde himself.
He would have liked to have crowned his farewell with a stage win. He let it be known. It would have been his 13th at a Vuelta, his 18th at a Grand Tour overall, his 134th win overall. Those are impressive numbers. The racing statistics are even more impressive: he covered around 94,000 kilometers alone in his 32 Grand Tour starts alone.
If you add up all the days of racing in his 21 professional seasons, it becomes a massive 224,000 kilometers. He has cycled around the world at the equator more than five times in competition mode. How often he took substances or used methods that are prohibited by the UCI anti-doping regulations remains his secret. He was convicted only once, when his DNA was compared with one of the bags of blood found in the refrigerator belonging to gynecologist Eufemiano Fuentes during the anti-doping raid Operación Puerto.
Post-lockdown stage wins
There is no indication of this career low on the banners celebrating Valverde at this farewell vuelta. No syringe is painted on the banner. Only sayings like "Thank you Valverde", "Eternal Valverde" and "Great Valverde" can be seen. People in Spanish sport are reluctant to talk about doping.
That mentality too has made it easy for Valverde to come back from his suspension as if nothing had happened. The chain of his victories did not break. He won the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classics Monument twice before his suspension and twice since. He won stages in the Tour de France both before and after the suspension. The 2009 Vuelta victory faces the 2018 World Cup victory.
Before he gets off his bike completely, he still has to help his team Movistar in the relegation battle for UCI points. That's why his employer won't let him go to the World Cup. There the chances of getting the important points for securing the new WorldTour license are lower. Once again the old gentleman put himself at the service of the team.