By Antonio J. Salmerón
Alejandro Valverde is ready to put up a fight on La Covatilla, today's first major climb of the Vuelta. The Caisse d'Epargne-IB leader told Cyclingnews that the hot weather and mountainous terrain should suit him.
Valverde abandoned hope of a high overall finish on la Covatilla in 2004 but said that this year would be different. "In 2004, the timing of this stage was very different from today's edition. In 2004, La Covatilla climb was more decisive, because it was in the final part of the Vuelta. I also had an accident in the first week on the stage to Caravaca, Murcia.
"This time is also different because I am in form and will be ready to fight. I also did not yield much time to the pure climbers in 2004 [just over two minutes - Ed]."
There are other decisive climbs to come says Valverde, "I believe that the following stages should be more decisive for the general classification: El Morredero and La Cobertoria, especially the latter.
"The Morredero does not hold any particular fear for me. I won there in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. This first week will be very important to the final outcome. But, the stages to come will be more decisive. The climb of La Pandera in the final week is very hard, although it animates me because I also won there. Calar Alto will also dictate the outcome of this Vuelta".
Valverde said that there are a number of rivals to worry about other than defending champion Dennis Menchov and Andre Vinokourov. "I do not discard anybody: Menchov, Iban Mayo, Haimar Zubeldia, Tom Danielson, Vinokourov, Andrei Kashechkin…, without forgetting a possible surprise. I do not know how Vinokourov's form is and how he will respond in the mountains, but I know Menchov very well. I fear him in the mountains. On the other hand, after my improvement in the race against the clock, I know that I can be near them."
The weather has not affected Valverde, who lives in Murcia in the south of Spain, to the same extent as some other riders. "Personally, I feel very well, physically and mentally. It is with great hopes that I will face the first mountains.
"It will be the first occasion that I can get an idea of the state of form of my rivals! The heat that accompanied us until now has made these first stages harder and more difficult to manage than we expected them to be when started in Málaga."