The Valverde Question

Alejandro Valverde won the men’s world championship road race on Sunday. Depending on your point of view, this is either a well-deserved victory coming towards the end of a well-decorated rider’s career, or a disappointing triumph of a convicted, unapologetic doper. 

Nothing is ever black and white, and in the case of Valverde (and usually in any doping conviction) there are many shades of grey. The feeling I get is somewhere in the middle: a lukewarm reaction to Valverde taking the rainbow jersey; a begrudging respect for the remarkable success rate he shows despite his relative age.

Should one feel morally obligated to side one way or another regarding Valverde? Probably not. He has served his ban and rightfully now races, and we cannot take away legitimate successes of his later career. He is no longer guilty of anything, while remaining not completely innocent. 

Maybe the payback for his seeming lack of contrition is this apathy, this lukewarm reaction I and other fans feel to this and his other wins1. As Daniel Friebe tweeted 

Probably stating the obvious, but it strikes me that one component of Valverde’s “punishment” for Operación Puerto was/is the fact that, a decade later, his remarkable feat of persistence and longevity isn’t greeted with the undiluted praise that it may otherwise have been. 

That’s one aspect of anti-doping that will always “work”: there’s invariably a bill to pay in the public’s hearts and minds, and maybe in the doper’s conscience, and sometimes it can take years or decades to pay. 

Too often the tendency is to divide to one extreme viewpoint, but this is not necessary. We can treat Valverde’s win for what it is: a legitimate win considering the anti-doping laws, but give no more praise and adoration than is felt it deserves. Given Valverde’s past attitude to his critics, there is probably little use ranting and raving anyway. 

Fortunately, there is no need for hand-wringing and debate about the women’s road race, which produced a popular and impressive winner in Anna van der Breggen.


  1. In truth, this is largely based on reactions I have seen amongst English-speaking folk – whether the same reaction has been shown in Spain and the Spanish media is unclear; I suspect the frosty anglophone were warmer reactions there. 

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