Valverde remains evergreen in the professional men's peloton, even at the advanced age of 38, he has shown at this Vuelta a Espana that he has the legs to challenge some of the best climbers in the world.
He sits second only to Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) coming into the final two decisive mountain stages, within striking distance of the Briton at just 25 seconds adrift.
“I think my legs are doing well; actually, I didn’t expect to finish so fresh and strong in this Vuelta," said Valverde. "I knew I was getting to the start in Málaga with good legs, hence the two stage victories on week one, but I didn’t think I could finish the race that strong."
Valverde came into the race with co-leadership of Movistar, the position being shared with 2016 Vuelta a Espana winner Nairo Quintana.
Quintana's form was solid throughout the race, but he dropped off the pace in Stage 17, and said he was willing to commit to the team's strategy for Valverde.
"Nairo’s words?" queried Valverde. "It makes me really happy, having such a strong rider and such a good team-mate say that yesterday. It makes me really calm."
The road ahead offers chances for Valverde to recover the time conceded to Yates, 25 seconds being recoverable for the Spanish veteran if he has the legs on the two summit finishes in Andorra.
“We’ve got two decisive stages coming up on Friday and Saturday – though I have the feeling that Saturday’s stage, being so short and explosive, can make it become anybody’s race, and it should be more key to the final result."
"Strategies? Those are a secret, our rivals can’t know. Let’s see how things go tomorrow: how we are doing, how our rivals are reacting, see where we can make them suffer into the final climb. The only thing which is crystal clear for us is that we won’t surrender, we’ll continue giving our best."
Simon Yates currently leads, and Valverde may be boosted by the knowledge that Yates faded from a much stronger position at this year's Giro d'Italia to finish well down the GC standings. Enric Mas (QuickStep Floors), 23, is just under a minute behind Valverde in third.
“We’ve got Yates ahead," said Valverde. "He’s proven to be really strong, he’s got a powerful squad by his side and some extra, invaluable help from his brother, Adam, who has ridden comfortably for the opening two weeks and comes to these final days really fresh.
"Behind me, there’s Enric Mas, who won’t hesitate to go for victory. He’s got the strength that it takes, the mentality – it made me really happy to see myself with him at MARCA’s cover this morning. It really means a lot: such a veteran, a ‘grandpa’ in the peloton like me, together with an up-and-coming guy who’s ready to take on the world.”