Five-times winner of the Tour de France, Miguel Indurain, believes that Alejandro Valverde can finish on the podium in Paris but looks to Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso as the two big favourites in July's jaunt throughout France.
"Valverde to could win the Tour de France if he improves his performance in races against the clock but without losing his qualitites in the mountains," said Indurain, before he added that, "Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso are both great favourites for this year's edition [of the Tour]." That's not to say that Indurain doesn't see Valverde and AG2R's Francisco Mancebo as the main Spanish challengers in July, however.
Indurain, who was in Barcelona as a member of the Laureus academy, said that Macebo was the other great possibility for Spanish cycling in the world's greatest bike race. "He's not a 'gun' in the mountains nor against clock, but he's always among the favorites, has experience and is used to performing very well at key moments [of the race]," said 'Big Mig'.
Indurain mentioned Valverde's lack of experience, which he considers, "the main key for success in the last week of the Tour, when most riders are heavily fatigued." Indurain is optimistic in respect to Valverde, and thinks that, Valverde can finish on the podium in this year's edition, mainly because of the great progress he's already demonstrated in Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege."
Indurain also spoke of who could be the heir to Lance Armstrong's throne, with the position open to a host of candidates. "But not to all riders, just five or ten," said Indurain. "Because to take this position one must have some very specific qualities and be very complete, like in the case of Ullrich and Basso, who have been around for some years and have developed strong careers," he added.
He believes the absence of Armstrong will change the development of riders' careers, in that they'll be, "more open and perhaps a little less controlled because there isn't a concrete leader as such - therefore the main reference point for riders' progression is lost."
The winner of the Tour between 1991 and 1995, Indurain emphasizes that preparation for July is a question "of feelings" rather than of specific preparation, something that Valverde has said in the past, and something he practices. He has often said he 'trains by feel', and if this approach doesn't work for him in 2006, it could work for the 'green bullet' in the not-so-distant future.
Coutesy of Antonio J. Salmerón