Alejandro Valverde said a love of cycling was the only secret to his success after winning a record-equalling third Fleche Wallonne title on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Spaniard joined an elite group of four riders, including Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, as he added to his victories in 2006 and last year.
And after proving the strongest on the brutal final climb of the Mur de Huy at the end of 205.5km around Wallonia, Valverde said that loving cycling is all that counts.
“In the end, there’s no secret, it’s about having the right physical condition. More than a secret, it’s about liking this sport a lot.
“You have to keep in form, train hard, and that’s really what the secret is.”
As for Valverde’s personal success, he said experience had played a key role.
“Above all I know this last climb and seeing that none of my rivals wanted to attack, I set my own tempo and when I saw that no-one was attacking, I realised I would win.”
Behind the ageing Spaniard, who turns 35 on Saturday, was a young Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, sandwiched between another veteran in Michael Albasini.
Alaphilippe, 22, came into the race with the intent on helping world champion and Sunday’s Amstel Gold victor Michal Kwiatkowski hit the final climb in a good position.
On his first appearance at Fleche Wallonne, he never expected to find himself fighting for the win as Kwiatkowski finished 33rd.
“A second place is always a defeat, but for me it’s a great performance, I’m happy,” said the Etixx-Quick Step rider.
“It’s my first time doing the Fleche Wallonne, I’d never come here before and never climbed the Mur de Huy. It was a discovery, so I’m happy.
“I’m surprised because our aim with the team was to place Kwiatkowski in the leading places at the foot of the last climb of the Mur de Huy.
“That’s what we did but there was a flow in the peloton and in the last kilometre I found myself ahead; I felt I had good legs and our sports director told me to have a go for the win.”
For Switzerland’s Albasini, 34, it was his sixth top 10 finish at Fleche but his best result remains a second place in 2012.
“It’s a climb (the Mur de Huy) that suits me more than others,” said the Orica-GreenEdge rider, who will revert to a domestique role at Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“This is also my chance to go for a result because at Amstel and Liege I’m mostly there to be a teammate for (Australians) Simon Gerrans or Michael Matthews, so that’s my chance — I had to be good today!”
However, he admitted that Valverde was simply too strong.
And asked if he would ever win Fleche, he regardless he would keep trying.
“Valverde is one of the strongest guys in this kind of finish, but you never know. You always have to try,” he said.
“I was closer than ever, maybe it wasn’t possible today but you can just always keep trying.
“You never know if he won’t be on a super day, so keep trying.”
Leading results from the Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, a 205.5km ride from Bastogne and Huy.
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 5hr 08min 22sec,
2. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) same time, 3. Michael Albasini (SUI/ORI) s.t., 4. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) s.t., 5. Dani Moreno (ESP/KAT) s.t., 6. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/ALM) at 04sec, 7. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) s.t., 8. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t., 9. Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED/CAN) s.t., 10. Wilco Kelderman (NED/LNL) s.t.
14. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 13, 20. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 19, 33. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/ETI) 38, 76. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 2:43, 123. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 12:19
– Agence France-Presse