By Antonio J. Salmerón
Not being present at the Tour de France 2009 launch didn't stop Alejandro Valverde from giving his opinion about next year's race. He told Cyclingnews that the route looked good for helping him make the podium.
"We only know the major details published," said Valverde. "I'm concerned about the 40km time trial near the end of the Tour because such long distances are not good for me. There is also a team time trial, and Caisse d'Epargne usually does well in these. With Mont Ventoux as the penultimate stage, it seems logical that this is where the podium will be decided."
"I feel the Tour will be balanced and challenging from start to finish, as is expected of a big race like the Tour," he said.
"Whether Armstrong takes part in the Tour is not known. I know I'll meet up him sooner or later. He's not the only one who worries me though. There are other great champions. If you are in the Tour, it will be harder next year. Ivan Basso, if he manages to get in top shape is another to keep in mind as well as [Carlos] Sastre, [Alberto] Contador and the [brothers] Schleck."
After two years racing and in the top 10, including wearing the yellow of the leader for a time, Valverde said he is again setting his sights on the podium on the Champs-Élysées. "I will sacrifice other races for the Tour. That is, I will focus on the Tour and try not to get too tired beforehand.
"I know what it is to win big classics, but now I'm going for a new triumph in a major test of three weeks, the Tour. If I do not win, I want to at least be on the podium. I think I am qualified to be fighting with the best, as I have demonstrated."
Sponsor Caisse d'Epargne's recent loss of 600 million euro does not have Valverde too worried. "I was having dinner with the people of Caisse d'Epargne on Monday night, after having picked up a prize (UCI ProTour). I confirmed that it has been my best year in my career, more consistent all season. From an economic viewpoint, there is no need to worry about the future of sponsor Caisse d'Epargne. It has been merged with another bank, and is now even stronger."
No doubt it has been an intense season for Valverde with criticism and pressure coming from within and outside of his team. "The criticism has not been good, and there have been mistakes. And while I am considered a winner, it's not always possible for me to win."