By Antonio J. Salmerón
Tired of the insistence to dismantle his reputation via Operación Puerto allegations, Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d'Epargne is thankful when asked about the Tour de France. Before going to the Eindhoven time trial, in which the Spanish squad had a strong performance, the 27 year-old Murcian took value of the time trials (more than 100 kilometres) that await him in La Grande Boucle.
"My good results in the time trials make me more optimistic and I have more confidence in my possibilities," the Spaniard explained to Cyclingnews yesterday. "I have been working thoroughly to improve my results in the time trial. On the last occasions, I have been advised by the team biomechanic in order to correct my position on the bike. In fact, I think that I am getting better. Apart from all of that, to be concentrated will be a determining factor to confront so many kilometres."
The first individual test is day one in London, an eight-kilometre prologue run through the city streets. Stages 13 and 19 are the next two timed tests. The first one is 54 kilometres and the second, after a romp in the Pyrenees, at 55 kilometres. The latter comes on the penultimate day and it will likely wrap up the overall classification. "But it will be mainly after confronting the high mountain stages in the Alps and in the Pyrenees."
Valverde gave greater value to the mountain stages, of which there are only three moutain-top finishes. "Time trial stages are always decisive ones in the Tour, because the general classification will be more or less defined after we have confronted the high mountain stages. Anyway, I do not believe that the time trial stages will be as decisive as the high mountain stages."
Stages seven, from Bourg-en-Bresse to Le-Grand-Bornand, and eight, between Le-Grand-Bornand and Tignes, in the Alps, and 14, between Mazamet and Plateau-de-Beille, 15, between Foix and Le Louron, and 16, Orthez and Col d'Aubisqu, in the Pyrenees will be the hardest moutain days. "I do not know which stage is harder than the other; all of them are very demanding, mainly when we are talking of the Tour de France," Valverde continued.
He reconnoitred the Pyrenees stages before participating in the Dauphiné Libéré and he came away with the feeling that the battles would be played out near his home country. "The Pyrenees stages seem harder than the Alps. ... It does not matter; as noted before, all of them will be complicated. I you have a bad day, you can lose everything."
Alexander Vinokourov, Valverde's nemesis in the 2006 Vuelta a España, had a strong performance in the Dauphiné Libéré and it left no doubt of who will be rival number one for the three-week French affair. "Vinokourov is the main rival for winning the Tour," Valverde confirmed. "However, it is also necessary to consider to Carlos Sastre [CSC], Andrey Kashechkin [Astana], Cadel Evans [Predictor-Lotto], Levi Leipheimer [Discovery Channel] and Denis Menchov [Rabobank]."
The Caisse d'Epargne rider summarized his goals. "I will fight for being on the podium. ... Also, it would be very important to obtain a stage win."