Movistar have confirmed that Alejandro Valverde will lead the Spanish WorldTour team at this weekend’s Strade Bianche despite falling ill as he returned home from the Abu Dhabi Tour. Carlos Betancur is also set to make his season debut after pulling out of the Colombia Oro y Paz event in January while he continued to recover from injuries he picked up at the end of last year.
“Ready to travel to Tuscany for a new edition of Strade Bianche,” Valverde wrote on Twitter. “A really tough but beautiful race, where it seems that it will be pretty cold.”
Joining Valverde and Betancur in the seven-man Movistar line-up are Daniele Bennati, Andrey Amador, José Joaquín Rojas, Nelson Oliveira and Nuno Bico.
Valverde won the final stage and claimed overall victory at last week’s Abu Dhabi Tour – his second stage race win of 2018 following his victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana earlier in the month, where he also claimed two stages.
Upon his return to Europe, Valverde was supposed to collect an award at an event held by the Spanish Sports Press Association (AEPD) but had to drop out after developing stomach problems. It was reported in the Spanish press that Valverde had to attend hospital because of the gastric problems but he later denied it on social media.
Valverde last rode Strade Bianche in 2015, where he finished 10th some 50 seconds behind the winner Fabian Cancellara. He has twice finished on the podium, in 2014 and 2015, being beaten by Michal Kwiatkowski and Zdenek Stybar respectively. His ability on steep climbs and his current form make him a favourite for the race, despite the presence of many of the cobbled Classics riders such as Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert.
Bentancur will be making a delayed start to his 2018 season at Strade Bianche, after being hampered by a heavy fall during last year’s Vuelta a Espana. The Colombian had enjoyed a good opening week, but came down on a descent when Tejay van Garderen crashed in front of him. He completed the stage with severe facial abrasions and a trip to the hospital later showed that he had fractured his ankle in the incident.
Movistar for Strade Bianche: Alejandro Valverde, Daniele Bennati, Andrey Amador, José Joaquín Rojas, Nelson Oliveira, Nuno Bico and Carlos Betancur.
Strade Bianche will take place this Saturday, March 3 and Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of the race plus a photo gallery, news and interviews.