Alejandro Valverde has dismissed the “curse of the rainbow jersey” as the world road race champion prepares to compete at the inaugural UAE Tour.
Valverde, 38, clinched one of the biggest titles of his career in Innsbruck, Austria last September and subsequently ended the season at the top of the UCI world rankings. Movistar’s lead rider will now aim to avoid the fate of many former world champions who suffered bad luck or poor form while wearing the rainbow jersey the following season.
“I do not believe in the curse of the rainbow jersey,” Valverde said at the Louvre Abu Dhabi on the eve of the seven-stage race, which starts with a Team Time Trial on Sunday.
“A victory with the rainbow jersey would be historic, it would be my first as a world champion. If I succeed now, in a World Tour race, even better.”
Valverde has plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the UAE Tour. The Spaniard has two runner-up finishes to his name already this season – at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Vuelta a Murcia – while on his most recent visit to the UAE last year, he won the last Abu Dhabi Tour before it expanded for this year’s race.
"After two second places in Murcia and Valencia I got it right, in good conditions and I will try to give everything to win,” Valverde said. “It is a very nice race, here you ensure the good weather, and it is also important because it joins the Dubai Tour and Abu Dhabi.
“The tour is interesting, it has two days of mountain, a demanding finish and every time I have come I have felt at ease. The truth is that last year I got lucky and I'm happy to return this year.”
Such is the strength of the UAE Tour peloton, Valverde is one of a host of leading contenders set to battle it out for the general classification’s red jersey.
Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin – the Giro d’Italia and World Time Trial champion in 2017 – and Bahrain-Merida rider Vincenzo Nibali – winner of all three grand tours – are among those set to challenge, although the former Vuelta a Espana champion believes there are many riders capable of winning in the UAE.
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“I know it will be difficult because the rivals are strong, but there is a mountain, I have my options and I hope to take advantage of them,” Valverde said.
“Dumoulin and Nabali will not be bad, but it is their first competition [this season]. They may lack rhythm, although with the training we do that is not so noticeable. There are other names, such as Dan Martin, Gorka Izagirre or Moscon that can also win.”
Despite his lack of competitive racing this season, Dumoulin has set his sights on general classification success, with Team Sunweb targeting a good start in the Team Time Trial.
"It's a World Tour race so it's not just a build-up, it's a race that I’d like to win or at least do well in the GC," the 28-year-old Dutchman said. "I've done the Abu Dhabi Tour quite a few times before but never the Dubai Tour, and now they're combined.
"I'm excited. I have done well in the past, last year not so well, but in the years before it was kind of nice. I really hope to win the GC with the team.”