By Hedwig Kröner in Courchevel
Hailed as the greatest talent of Spanish cycling, 25 year-old Alejandro Valverde has pursued his rising career in his first Tour de France, confirming the high hopes his country's cycling community has put on him. Not only taking the White jersey of best young rider, the Illes Balears rider made a big impression by outsprinting Armstrong in the last meters of the 22.2 km climb to Courchevel.
At the start of stage 10 in Grenoble, Valverde told Cyclingnews, "Today, above all, I have to try to be in front with Paco [Mancebo]. I don't know about what attacks will be going on the first climb, but there will surely be plenty of attacking on the second." And the day proved to be very successful for both riders, as they were two of the three rare companions of an ever more powerful Lance Armstrong in the last seven kilometres.
"There are no words to express my happiness over this stage win," said Valverde after the race. "Winning at the Tour is most important, even more so in this stage. There really are no words for my feelings.
"Today was a great day for our team," he added. "I won the stage, and Paco and myself have moved up on GC. Now, we have to recuperate and look out on the next stages ahead."
Asked about his overall objectives for this Tour, Valverde replied, "One of my big dreams has been accomplished today, the stage win. So now, I will work for the team for the rest of the race, as Paco Mancebo is still our undoubted leader. He's also very strong, and we want to see what we can do to counter Armstrong, who appears to be as strong as ever."
Valverde suffered on the ascent to Courchevel, but still pursued with the possible perspective of winning the stage. "The beginning of the climb was extremely fast, at about 1000 km/h," he commented. "When Armstrong attacked and we reached the final kilometres Lance told us to work with him to keep up the speed, because it was such an important day for him. He just said 'let's go flat out'. Of course our objective was to get into the finish with him to try and take the stage."
When Valverde crossed the line just ahead of the American, he barely raised his arms, his face expressing pure pain. "It was really hard," he explained, still shaking his head. "First, Rasmussen attacked and I took his wheel. And after 500 metres, Armstrong went really fast, a tope [flat out] and I managed to take his wheel. It was very difficult and I nearly gave up... The only thing that made me drive on was imagining how it would be to win that stage."
In one impressive effort, the young Spaniard made his wish come true, but had trouble realizing the grandeur of his performance. "I'll only realize what I've done in a couple of hours, thinking back on it. It's such an important victory. But I have to continue looking ahead too on the next stages and on the work that has to be done there," a down to earth Valverde concluded.