Well, it happened. Alejandro Valverde won the Worlds at the age of 38, and the reaction ran the full gamut of opinion. There was joy and there was condemnation. For some, the rainbow jersey was just reward for a stellar career, the final addition to a glittering palmarès. For others, the sight of an unrepentant doper winning the most prestigious of titles stuck in the craw. Some people held both opinions – this is cycling, after all, where inconsistency of opinion and judgement runs through the sport like words through a stick of rock. So what do we think? The answer is easy: it’s complicated.
At the time, I was really unhappy at Valverde’s doping. He was bang to rights, from the moment it emerged that a blood bag labelled ‘Valv.piti’ had been found in the infamous freezer of Dr Fuentes during Operación Puerto. Puerto blew up in 2006, but Valverde obfuscated and didn’t serve a ban until 2010, and he did so without ever fronting up for cheating the fans, then or since.
I’m still a little unimpressed, but mainly for that last reason. He doped and served a ban. The wrong was done and justice served. We move on. I’d have liked it more if he’d said sorry, even if he’d put it in the context of the realities of the sport at the time, but staying angry at a pro cyclist who doped 12 years ago at a time when most pro cyclists were also doping is kind of a waste of energy. It doesn’t necessarily help the anti-doping fight now.
Valverde races hard from February to October, he wins a lot, he’s popular among many of his peers and he’s passing the doping tests. He’s also an ex-doper who helped drag the sport through the mud and never said sorry; since Innsbruck he’s shown the same insouciant denial about his past. Really, the long-term consequence for his sins is the ambivalent reaction to it. A great win by a great rider who will never be universally loved.