An admittedly battered, but not beaten Caisse d'Epargne outfit showed up at the Tour de France team's presentation on Thursday evening. Rolling up the ramp towards the stage in front of Monaco's glam harbour, one could not help but feel the absence of the team's main leader, Alejandro Valverde, and wonder if the riders of the French-Spanish squad were going to be able to make up for it.
Due to his alleged involvement in Operación Puerto, Valverde was banned to race on Italian soil by the Italian Olympic Committee. As the Tour will move through Italy on stage 16 – and following the wishes of the team's main sponsor, who feared Valverde's participation might damage its image – the team removed the rider from its line-up prior to the start.
Valverde's teammate Luis León Sánchez bemoaned his absence, but still thought that the team had good chances for a successful Tour. "Not having Valverde here at the start changes everything, of course," he told Cyclingnews. "Fortunately, we have other riders that can also do a good Tour, and we hope to be lucky enough to still be in front."
Asked if Oscar Pereiro will be able to fill the space left vacant by Valverde, Sánchez replied, "I think so. Oscar has already won a Tour de France, and we are lucky to have him with us. He is in good shape, and our goal is to try for stage victories and put him in a good position for the general classification. Nevertheless, this race is all about taking it from day-to-day, you never know what will happen."
The winner of this year's Paris-Nice meanwhile admitted that his own shape still had to improve over the next two weeks in order for him to be truly competitive towards the end of the race. "My intention is to recover racing rhythm rapidly and hopefully get to the last week in perfect condition, to try and be in front then. If I have the opportunity, then I will definitely go for a stage."