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Tadej Valjavec called to the podium
Stage victories a priority as French team look to improve on podium record
AG2R La Mondiale named Tadej Valjavec as leader for the Vuelta a España and confirmed its final nine-man selection Tuesday. Its main goal for the race will be a high overall finish for Valjavec and stage wins, said the French team.
Jose-Luis Arrieta, Alexander Efimkin, Sébastien Hinault, Julien Loubet, John Gadret, Rinaldo Nocentini, Christophe Riblon and Ludovic Turpin will support Slovenia's Valjavec, 32.
"We are looking for a place in the top ten or even top five [for Valjavec]," said Directeur Sportif Vincent Lavenu.
"We will also look for the stage wins that we really need this season. Our riders have managed to get good results in big races like the Grand Tours, but we lack the stage victories that we would ease the pressure a little."
Last year the team won 12 races, including two stages of the Tour de France through Vladimir Efimkin and Cyril Dessel. The recruitment of Swiss sprinter Aurélien Clerc and Frenchman Sébastien Hinault at the end of 2008 had been hoped to provide a further boost to podium appearances. However, neither rider has provided more than a spatter of top-ten results since they joined the team.
This year, despite Nocentini's possession of the Tour de France's yellow jersey for eight days in July, the team has been bereft of race victories. Team talisman Dessel crashed on stage six of the French Grand Tour; an incident that added injury to the insult of only one top-ten stage finish all year.
Nocentini has been the team's most consistent performer. He opened AG2R's account on stage seven of the Tour of California in February, but since then the team has only added a further four victories this season. It is a situation that the team hopes to turn around in Spain.
Lavenu said the team has been selected to increase and seize opportunities for stage victories. "John Gadret, Rinaldo Nocentini and Sébastien Hinault are quite capable [of stage wins]. Hinault has already won a stage of the Vuelta in 2008. Jose-Luis Arrieta will, as usual, act as captain on the road and his role is to properly protect our leader. In any case, we will make every effort to win a stage on the Vuelta a España."
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