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New Spanish road trainer Javier Minguez has confirmed that Alejandro Valverde will be the main leader of his nine-man team in the men’s road-race next Sunday.
“Spain and Italy are the strongest squads for this, the Italians have always been a reference point in this kind of racing,” Minguez, a long-standing sports director of Spanish teams in the 80s and 90s, and a commentator for Spanish radio in recent years told the Spanish sports daily AS on Sunday.
“Individually, though, I’d mention [Peter] Sagan, [Vincenzo] Nibali, Philippe Gilbert, [Fabian] Cancellara, [Edvald] Boasson Hagen. There’s a long list out there, and always quite a few riders who show up who were never on anybody’s betting card.”
Valverde certainly has the results to justify a leader’s role. Following Oscar Freire’s retirement, Valverde is Spain’s most ‘be-medalled’ pro rider, with two silvers (2003 and 2005) and two bronzes (2006 and 2012) in his palmares - a total which no other current rider from any other country matches. Rodriguez is a distant second, with a bronze medal from the 2009 Worlds.
As for prioritizing Valverde - who took bronze amidst controversial circumstances last year, when he was criticised for failing to guide Oscar Freire up the Cauberg on the final lap - Minguez says nonetheless “He’s won four medals and he’s good at long, hard races. It’s not a question of guiding Alejandro up to a final sprint because there won’t be one in this race, there will be four riders at most off the front in the last part of the last lap. And I think Alejandro can be one of them.”
Asked what chances Spain had of taking a medal, Minguez said “at least 60 percent. But if we think of ourselves as favourites, that’s where we’ll start making mistakes. We have to tackle this race from a humble point of view.”
It’s been nearly ten years since Spain last won the men’s World’s and since then an often excessively top-heavy squad has seen many opportunities squandered. “My job is to be sure that nobody makes a mistake when it comes to the role they have to play,” Minguez said, although for the mens race the proof will be in the pudding, as it were, next Sunday.
“Our objective is take a medal,” Minguez told AS, “That’s what people get obsessed with. But my main worry is to get the team to work as a team. If we get a medal without doing a good race, I won’t be satisfied.”