With a newly earned Spanish championship jersey and a win in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Alejandro Valverde's name has been pushed onto the list of Tour de France favourites. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet talked with Valverde about his ambitions for the coming French Grand Tour.
It's 'Viva España!' in the world of sport these days. Spain won its first football European Championship in 44 years, and Alejandro Valverde donned the first Spanish champion jersey of his career. After finishing second twice, once to Francisco Mancebo in 2004 and another time to his team-mate Joaquím Rodríguez last year, Valverde will now wear the gold and red jersey in this year's Tour de France in place of his black and red Caisse d'Epargne strip.
Had he been riding ten years ago, Valverde might not have had the chance to hold that title, as it was not fashionable in the Spanish teams to have the national champion jersey. Until he authorised Laurent Jalabert to become the French champion in 1998, famous Spanish director Manolo Saiz had forbidden his riders to win the national title because he wanted everybody to look the same under the colours of ONCE. It was similar at the rival team of Banesto; Miguel Indurain started the 1992 Tour de France with only the colours of the Spanish flag on his arm bands because the sponsor wanted the maximum exposure.
Nowadays, national pride has been restored, and the Caisse d'Epargne squad, which was built out of the same staff as Banesto, has no problem with its riders replacing its colours with the national jersey. The team not only won in Spain, but came close to the win in France as well with Arnaud Coyot finishing second to Nicolas Vogondy.
Valverde the unbeaten
In his young days, Valverde was nicknamed 'the Imbatido' ('The Unbeaten') because he won almost all the races he took part in. His winning ways have certainly resumed this year: he took Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the second time in his career, won the Dauphiné Libéré, took a rest and then returned successfully with a win at the Spanish Championship.
While his physical preparation should be spot on, Valverde's mental approach of the Tour de France must also be perfect. However, Valverde, 28 years old and in his eighth professional season, doesn't rank himself as the star of Grand Tours as he actually hasn't won any yet. "Well, Alberto Contador has won two Grand Tours in two years," he said of his compatriot. "He is the number one for the three-week long races. I'm not there yet."
Valverde feels sorry for Contador, part of the temporarily banned Team Astana, who is not able to defend his title at this year's Tour de France. "I get on well with Alberto, we're just rivals when we're racing, some of the aficionados [fans - ed.] cheer for him, others cheer for me, but there's no war between the two camps, it's pretty quiet actually."
Continue to the full interview with Alejandro Valverde.