Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will kick off his 2012 season in the opening WorldTour event on the calendar, the Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia.
The Spaniard hasn't raced since his two-year doping suspension enforced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport began on May 31, 2010. Valverde won the 2009 Vuelta a Espana, but is perhaps best known for his ability as a Classics rider.
With the Tour Down Under boasting an uphill finish for the first time in it's 14-year history, the race may prove the perfect platform for the Spaniard to make his long awaited return - and so thinks race director Mike Turtur.
"I believe Valverde is one of the favourites for the 2012 race. The experience he had here when he last raced in 2010, will have him well placed to be a big threat to take out the overall win," said Turtur.
"The Old Willunga Hill and Stirling finishes suit Valverde’s style of racing so we expect him to ride well."
Valverde may however prove a distraction to the constantly improving Jose Joaquin Rojas. Rojas featured heavily at this year's Tour de France, along with taking out the Spanish National championships in June, which earned him the easily recognisable red and yellow strip.
"Jose Joaquin Rojas was impressive here in 2009, winning the Cycle Instead Young Rider Jersey and finishing third in the GC. I think Rojas will certainly be one to watch in 2012," said Turtur.
"Movistar is bringing a very strong team with them to Adelaide. After winning the Brilliant Blend Teams Classification at the 2011 race, I am sure they will again put in a competitive performance. With the likes of Valverde, Gutierrez and Rojas it’s got the calibre of a Grand Tour team," added Turtur.
The Tour Down Under gets underway on the 17th of January.
Movistar for the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under managed by Jose Luis Arrieta:
Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Imanol Erviti (Spa), Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spa), David Lopez (Spa), Angel Madrazo (Spa), Javier Moreno (Spa), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa).