By Antonio J. Salmerón
Alejandro Valverde is not surprised at Luis León Sánchez's triumph at Paris-Nice, but cautioned that Sánchez still needs time to get to the top level. Valverde for his part can't wait to meet the top guys in competition and changed his calendar to participate in the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Valverde knows Sánchez well – the two are friends, teammates at Caisse d'Epargne, often train together and even share the same manager, Antonio Sánchez. "I have been saying for a few years that Luis León is capable of great performances," Valverde said to Cyclingnews.
"I think it is still necessary to let him mature and not to put too much pressure on him. This is not the time for comparisons. Don't compare him to Induráin or to me, for that matter; everyone is different."
Valverde sees some characteristics that could make Sánchez a rider for the Grand Tours. ."His advantage is that he is a complete rider, with a lot of strength. He can also hold his own in a time trial." Sánchez sealed his Paris-Nice win in stage seven when he rode away from an elite front group, including former winner Alberto Contador (Astana). Sánchez rode the last 17 kilometres by himself to win by over a minute.
Speaking of his own campaign towards the Tour de France, Valverde admitted he had not planned to ride the Vuelta a Castilla y León. "I couldn't wait any longer without competing. There is a pretty long time trial to check my power, a very competitive field and there are also some mountains and even a mountain top finish. All that means you have all the interesting ingredients to justify a start."
Valverde travels to the start of the race with two of his teammates – José Joaquín Rojas and Fran Pérez – of a very strong Caisse d'Epargne team.
Valverde said that no other modifications in his racing programme are planned. "The rest stays the same. The Volta a Catalunya as well as the Dauphiné Libéré are two very important races towards the Tour de France." His goal for the Tour is clear, he wants to be in the top three in Paris. "I think I am capable to fight for a podium spot, as I have already demonstrated."