By Antonio J. Salmerón
Tour contender Alejandro Valverde has been prepping for the mountainous parcours he will face this July by hitting a second training camp at altitude in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Spain. While his native Murcia has its share of climbs, the Caisse d'Epargne team leader has decided that the extremes of this years Tour de France required special preparation at higher altitudes.
Valverde used the snowy mountain range to prepare for the Dauphiné Libéré, which he won earlier this month, and returned with his team-mate Luis León Sánchez last week. The pair took in climbs between 1,500 and 2,000 metres above sea level, and slept at altitude. "The outcome has been very positive," he told Cyclingnews. "The fact is that there are no passes in Murcia, so it was convenient travel to Sierra Nevada (about 350 kilometers from Murcia) for more optimal training."
For Valverde, training at altitude is preferable to using a hypobaric chamber to simulate the rarified air of the mountains. "I have had one for three years, but I only used it on some twenty occasions."
The Spaniard feels that the reduced length of time trials in this year's Tour will put the main emphasis on the four mountain top finishes. "In the first of the two time trials in Cholet, I do not believe there will be big time differences because it is too early [stage four] and it is just 30 kilometres. I will be alright at that distance, as I have demonstrated, although its profile favours specialists.
"The other, Saint Amand Montrond [stage 20], is more complicated, but I do not think it will decide the podium positions, in any case there may be variations among the top twenty."
The four mountain top finishes will be the decisive factor in the race, according to the Spaniard. While the first uphill finish atop Hautacam on stage 10 is daunting, Valverde thinks that it is too early in the Tour to be decisive. "There is still a long way to go to Paris," he said of this stage, "and it will be measured efforts [on the climb]. Even so, we must be very attentive to the movements of our rivals."
As for the Italian finish at Prato Nevoso, he had a similar view. "There may already be established and important differences that will serve as a reference, but there are still other mountains and riders will be saving their strength for later stages." The real race will be on the famous switchbacks of L'Alpe d'Huez, said Valverde.