The 2018 UCI World Championship Road Race proved a rare opportunity for the climbers to have a chance at the podium and more importantly the coveted Rainbow jersey. The course for Innsbruck was the hardest Worlds course in many years. When the course was announced many of the top climbers marked theis race as a big goal on their calendars. As we got close to the Worlds the big favorites for the race emerged. Reporters, riders, former riders, fans, and others in the sport all had their own list of favorites. Although not the biggest favorite, one name was on everyone’s list of favorites. That name was Spaniard Alejandro Valverde who already owned the record for most podiums.
As the race developed some of the favorites were not up to the demands of the race. A smaller number tried to live up the race and get away with attacks. They did make the race exciting, but those who tried to attack were unable to make an attack stick. The French team showed their strength in shutting down many of the attacks and brought the race back together on the final climb. One of the favorites, Thibaut Pinot sacrificed his chances for his two teammates. By the time the summit of the final climb was reached, only three riders were still together at the head of the race. With the fast descent and short run into the finish line it was apparent the win would be contested by these three riders. Those three riders included two of the pre race favorites in Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Frenchman Romain Bardet, joined by Canadian Michael Woods. Although Dutchman Tom Dumoulin would catch these three in the final 2 kilometers, he would not factor into the podium as he had used his energy to catch the leading three riders. The group of Valverde, Bardet, and Woods did work well together to try to maintain their advantage until the final 2 kilometers when Bardet and Woods forced Valverde to the front in hopes it would tire him enough to get them a small chance in the sprint finish, as they knew Valverde was the fastest in a sprint of the group.
Alejandro Valverde knew this was likely to happen. He also knew were he could open up his sprint and hold his top end speed to the finish line. He raced the final kilometer and a half watching for attacks from the other riders as well as watching for the meter signs as he was looking for the 350 meter marker. Once he reached the 350 meter maker he knew it was time to open up his sprint. From the over head view it was easy to see he had won by over a bike length over Romain Bardet. Michael Woods held on to the final spot on the podium, while Tom Dumoulin did everything he could not to loose contact with those three in the final sprint.
As Alejandro Valverde crossed the finish line, he looked up and saw on the screne he had just won the World Championship road race. When he realized he was the new World Champion he started screaming with pure joy. We saw all the emotions of a rider who had been trying to win this race for 15 years and had dreamed of winning the rainbow jersey since he was a child. A year and three months earlier he was sitting on the tarmac at the Tour de France with a broken kneecap screaming because he was scared his career was over. Now fully recovered he had just become the new World Champion and he let all those emotions pour out for all to see.
The World Championship road race was the big hole in Alejandro Valverde’s palmares. There are still a few races he has not yet won, but the Worlds was the one race he wanted the most. His comment that he can now be at peace when he retires along with the screams of pure joy after winning and the crying before doing interviews before the podium ceremony show how much winning the World Championship road race means to him. He spent his off season working to get back with this race in the back of his mind as his one big goal of the year if he could reach his pre injury level. His winter and spring races showed he was back to that pre injury level. His second half of the season was set to prepare for this one big goal he still had.
After 15 years and a record 6 podiums Alejandro Valverde has finally become the UCI Road Race World Champion. He was so excited about winning the rainbow jersey, he wanted the opportunity to race in it a few times before the end of the season. He was given that opportunity with three of the one day races in Italy finishing with the final monument of the season, Il Lombardia to close the season. Over the next twelve months he will fullfill a life long dream to race in the rainbow jersey. Alejandro Valverde is a worthy and deserving champion who will honor the rainbow jersey throughout the next year of racing.