Young Spaniard Rafael Valls was one of the revelations of the season, the unheralded 23-year-old taking second on stage seven of this year's Tour de France, and it's this experience that has him excited about working with Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov at Team Geox next year.
"It's obvious that Denis and Carlos are really experienced riders, and I'll have to profit and learn as much as possible from them in this new season," Valls said at the recent 2011 Tour de France route presentation in Paris.
"The objective is to shine in the one-week stage races right from the start of the spring, such as Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, and then fighting for a place into the Tour de France lineup. My goal there will be first helping Sastre and Menchov, and then trying to show my real condition as a free rider," he explained.
Valls shone for Footon-Servetto-Fuji on the 165.5km journey to Station des Rousses during this year's Tour - he was the standout of a young team that wasn't expected to feature in the major moments of the race, although the young climber definitely caught the eye of fans and organisers alike. And he was thankful to the latter for receiving an opportunity to be a part of the 2011 edition as Christian Prudhomme detailed the parcours of the 98th Tour.
"I'm proud to be taking a seat in Paris with the very best in the international peloton and counting on consideration from Tour organisers," said Valls. "I was surprised to get invited, I would never have expected it. I wanted to meet Denis Menchov and both Carlos Sastre and they left me with a good impression," he added.
And after his impressive debut, Valls now has the 'Tour bug' - he's keen to be involved in next year's edition and recalled his experience in the 2010 race, which got underway in Rotterdam in July 3.
"Even more than the win in San Luis or the breaks in France, the best moment of the season for me was the day when I knew I would be racing the Tour, and especially when I arrived in Rotterdam with all the atmosphere before and during the race. Those were beautiful days," he said.
It was the obvious highlight in what was a challenging rookie season for Valls, who battled injury in between his Tour de San Luis win and the Tour de France. His year was cut short during the Vuelta a España due to fatigue.
"In general it was a season of contrast: it started off well, with the victory in San Luis, but then the injury in Langkawi and the hit in Romandie made it hard to recover until the Tour de Suisse. There, I felt well and I could race the Tour in top condition, but everything went bad at the end of the year and I think I could have done more," he explained.