Old habits die hard, and Alejandro Valverde admitted that while he is hopeful of a top result in the UCI Gravel World Championships, one aspect of his former lengthy career on the road could be a fly in the ointment on Sunday.
After taking up gravel racing for his longstanding Movistar team once he retired from the road, Valverde has been training in Italy for the World Championships since Tuesday.
But despite his success in multiple gravel races in Spain, Valverde recently told the newspaper AS that he fears that his lack of speed repairing punctures and handling mechanicals, born of long years having a following team car on the road to do that particular task for him, could be an issue.
While tipping Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) as top favourite, Valverde estimated that his own chances of success in the Worlds were as little as one in 20. But as he said in the interview, “that 5% chance is still there.”
“The good thing is that I’m still enjoying cycling and I still want to make people enjoy cycling,” he said. “At the end of the day, you watch a race like the European Gravel Championships and you see how many good riders have come of road racing. It’ll be the same kind of scenario, or perhaps even more so, in the Worlds.”
Speaking before his final countdown round of training had begun, Valverde said his feelings were “good, but I’m also realistic. One thing is competing in general and another is competing against all the pros who are still racing. Any World Championships is fast-paced and very hard. It’ll be like Strade Bianche, but with more off-road sections.”
Valverde has prepared his material for the Gravel Worlds conscientiously, he said, with a build-up of over two weeks. But he admitted to AS that keeping his bike out of trouble would form a significant element of staying in contention: something true for any competitor, but as Valverde sees it, more important for him, as a former roadie, than other rivals.
“My aim is to do it as best I can, and not have any breakages or crashes, because in these races if you have a puncture or a mechanical, there’s no car behind.”
As Valverde told AS, some rivals can have a problem such as a puncture, but “they’re up and away again.” When it comes to repairing a puncture at high speed, Valverde said, “I almost don’t know how to do that, so it’ll take me a bit longer.”
When it came to the switchover from road to gravel, Valverde said the technical elements in general were what had caused him the most trouble,…