By Antonio J. Salmerón
Alejandro Valverde, the Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears co-leader together with the "virtual" winner of the Tour of France, Oscar Pereiro, likes the 2006 Vuelta a España route. "I already said in the Vuelta presentation that it suits me well," he said. Moreover, the talented Spaniard is convinced to arrive in "very good condition" at the beginning of the Vuelta, after riding the Clásica de San Sebastian and Subida a Urkiola.
In a recent interview in Meta2mil, Valverde said he was "satisfied" with the team that Eusebio Únzue has finalised for the stage race, and pointed at the top of stage 18's La Pandera climb, where he has already won: "There, I experienced a very pretty and unforgettable day," he commented. Another ascent that will be in his interest is the one to the Calar Alto astronomical observatory on stage 16. "The Morredero doesn't treat me badly; I already won there in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon", Valverde added.
The worst memory one of the Vuelta stages has left him, though, was the fifth final stage in La Covatilla, when he lost more than two minutes on Roberto Heras in 2004. And Menchov? The Russian is his most feared rival, at the moment: "I can be near him against the clock, but Menchov makes me afraid in the high mountains." Valverde talks, more concretely, about La Cobertoria coming up on stage nine this year: "Although I have done it in training, it seems to me very hard. The three final stages as well as the fifth, seventh and ninth, are frightful," Valverde concluded.