As the final countdown to the Giro d’Italia begins, both Alejandro Valverde and the Movistar team management believe that the 36-year-old is more than ready for the challenges of his first ever corsa rosa.
Of all the Giro d’Italia general classification contenders, Valverde, recently turned 36, has had the most successful spring, starting out with a fourth triumph in the Vuelta a Andalucia back in February. Other highlights included a record-breaking fourth win at Flèche Wallonne and a first ever overall victory in the Vuelta a Castilla y Léon.
The main focus, though, has always been Valverde’s participation in the Giro d’Italia, to the point where he has bypassed races that usually feature on his program, like the Volta a Catalunya and Amstel Gold Race. Instead, he opted for a three-week training camp in Tenerife taking in regular sessions of long, steady climbing to try to ensure he will not be out of the running when the Giro hits the Dolomites.
Movistar’s confidence in Valverde’s chances is such that, as sports director Jose Luis Jaimerena told Cyclingnews, they will not be starting the race with a plan ‘B’, despite team-mate Andrey Amador’s fourth place overall in the Giro last year. Instead, for now, even if Amador will have his own chance to shine, Movistar’s game plan for the Giro starts and finishes with Valverde.
“At the moment, the clear thing is that Alejandro is our top man then we’ll see how that goes,” Jaimerena said. “Andrey has, obviously, shown he’s somebody we have to keep in mind, too.
“The same kind of approach applies to [Carlos Alberto] Betancur [fifth in the 2013 Giro d’Italia and a new signing with Movistar this year – ed.] He’s getting better and better as we could see in Asturias, but he’s not yet in the same kind of condition that he was as back in 2013.”
For now, then, Betancur will be “racing purely as a supporting rider for Alejandro."
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Due to roll down the start ramp in Apeldoorn at 16:48 local time, one minute after Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and two after Mikel Landa (Sky), Jaimerena says that Valverde will be aiming “not to lose time rather than win it,” in the first time trial and throughout the first week.
“Apart from the opening time trial, the stage with gravel roads [stage 8 to Arezzo] will be a first big test of his strength. From that stage onwards, we’ll start to see how he is for the overall classification. The time trial [on stage 9] is where the race for the overall classification really begins.”
“I see myself as a potential Giro winner, of course I do,” Valverde recently told Spanish newspaper AS. “That’s the motivation and mentality you’ve got to have when you go into a race like this. Ok, you have to be lucky, and see how things go stage by stage. But as I see myself right now, and looking at my rivals’ condition, too, I know I can tackle this Giro believing I can win it.”
Valverde added that “unless I crash in the second stage, my program for the rest of the season won’t change.” In other words, he will race the Giro then go on to the Tour de France, but after finishing third overall in 2015 in Paris, his only objective this July will be to race as a top support rider for Quintana.
On paper, Valverde’s Achilles heel in the Giro d’Italia is his lack of experience, and this in a race where ambushes and tricky terrain tend to proliferate in a way that the more structured stages of the Tour and Vuelta a España rarely produce.
But Jaimerena argues this will not be an issue. “He knows what it’s like to race a Grand Tour abroad, in fact the 2009 Vuelta started in Holland, too, and he won that. He knows how nervous a Grand Tour can get when it’s going over flat terrain like in Holland. Ok, so not all races are the same and prior experience of a race is always a point in a rider’s favour. But he’s 36, he’s a very versatile rider, so I’m sure he will be able to get through these first nervous stages without any real problems.”
In any case, as Jaimerena pointed out, given Vincenzo Nibali’s track record in Grand Tours, the Italian and the Astana team, rather than Movistar, will be the main point of reference for all the top contenders, including Valverde. “Vincenzo’s a well-established overall favourite, and the top favourite to win here,” Jaimerena pointed out.
“[But] Alejandro’s in good shape, and after such a strong first half of the season, he’s really confident too.”