After being excluded from this year's edition of the Tour de France, Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde yesterday announced his race programme that focuses on preparation for an expected return to the Tour on July 3, 2010.
In addition, the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced that it had set the dates for hearings on two separate doping-related cases involving Valverde, one in January and one in March.
The 29-year-old Spaniard has become the latest in a growing list of Grand Tour contenders who will commence their 2010 season at the Tour Down Under. Valverde announced that his season will be focused around the French Grand Tour and will have the opportunity to size up likely Tour rivals Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) in Adelaide (January 17-24).
The ProTour race will be the start of a race programme that also includes Paris-Nice (March 7-14), Volta a Catalunya (March 22-28), Amstel Gold Race (April 18), Flèche Wallonne (April 21) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 25). Valverde will then take a short break before he returns to defend his 2008 Dauphiné Libéré title, Jun 6-13. His final competitive effort prior the Tour will be the Spanish national Championships.
The winner of this year's Vuelta a España anticipates a tough Tour next season and said he expects Alberto Contador (Astana) to be the biggest hurdle come July, where he will hope to find a chink in his compatriot's armour.
"[Beating Contador] will be complicated," he said at Caisse d'Epargne's first team meeting this week in Navarra, Spain. "Contador could falter at any moment; we'll need to stay strong throughout the race if we are to exploit that moment."
Despite the departure of key domestiques, including Daniel Moreno (to Silence-Lotto), Oscar Pereiro (to Astana) and Joaquin Rodriguez (to Katusha), Valverde is confident that he will have a strong squad for the Tour. Maurizo Bruseghin, Christophe Moreau and Mauricio Soler have all joined Caisse d'Epargne for 2010 and are likely to play a role in Valverde's attempt at a second Grand Tour title.
"We have a great team, similar to last year's infrastructure, but with some losses," he told Spanish daily Marca. "However, we have signed some great riders and will be a strong team."
Valverde has not ruled out the possibility of returning to defend his Vuelta a España title, but said a decision will be taken after the Tour de France.
The Spaniard was forced to miss this year's Tour due the race's passage through Italy on stage 16 from Martigny, Switzerland, to Bourg Saint Maurice. Valverde is currently serving a two-year ban on racing in Italy enforced by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), for his alleged involvement in the 2006 Operación Puerto blood-doping investigation.
Valverde himself has appealed the CONI decision with the Court of Arbitration (CAS) on the basis that the Italian organisation does not have jurisdiction over him. After several delays in the case, the CAS today announced that a hearing will be held January 12-14, several days prior to the Tour Down Under.
However, his participation in next year's Tour de France could again be threatened by the outcome of a second appeal before the CAS. The World Anti-doping Authority (WADA) and International Cycling Union (UCI) have appealed the Spanish Cycling Federation's decision not to pursue a case against Valverde in the Puerto affair. The CAS announced on Tuesday that hearing in that case will be held on March 18-21. If it rules in favour of the WADA and UCI, Valverde could face further investigation and the possibility of a world-wide two-year ban.
Despite the cloud of the CAS verdicts hanging over him, Valverde said the pending decisions would not disrupt his preparations for next season. "You learn to live with it and hopefully will be resolved as soon as possible. I can't doing anything but wait."
|Tour Down Under (January 19-24)|
|Tour of the Mediterranean (February 10-14)|
|Paris-Nice (March 7-14)|
|Tour of Catalunya (March 22-28)|
|GP Miguel Indurain (April 3)|
|Tour the Basque Country (April 5-10)|
|Amstel Gold Race (April 18)|
|Flèche Wallonne (April 21)|
|Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 25)|
|Dauphiné Libéré (June 6-13)|
|Spanish Championships (late June)|
|Tour de France (July 3-25)|