In an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Eusebio Unzué, manager of the number one-ranked Movistar team, explains that Alejandro Valverde's exclusive goal in the 2016 Tour de France will be to support teammate Nairo Quintana. Valverde, WorldTour winner for the past two seasons, will have his eye on the Giro d’Italia, and in his debut in the Italian Grand Tour he will be going for pink.
Cyclingnews: Before talking about the Giro, there are some other big changes for Valverde in 2016. It’s also emerged last week that Alejandro will race in the Tour of Flanders next year for the first time, but can we assume he’ll be back there in Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege as well?
Eusebio Unzué: Yes, that’s correct. He’s always done well in those two races.
CN: So why is he doing Flanders in 2016? Does he need new challenges?
EU: In that particular sense, he’s very straightforward, because luckily, he doesn’t need new challenges to continue to be motivated. But I don’t want that to stop Alejandro from experiencing the magic of a start of of Tour of Flanders, even if it’s a race where he’ll be finding out what he can do. The other reason why I want him to do Flanders is that he knows what the Belgium of the Ardennes is like, so I want him to experience the other kind of Belgian racing, the Belgium of the pavés.
CN: If he’s doing Flanders, does that mean he’d have to do some of the earlier races as well, too, like, say, Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke?
EU: Yes. Even though the new route of Flanders means it’s fairly easy to do a reconnaissance and check out the final circuit, he'll do races like that as part of his build-up. Giving him new races to look at and see what he can do is not a bad thing at all. The same goes for the Giro d’Italia, we’d like him to see what that race is like, the special atmosphere it has and the huge level of affection the Italians have for their home Grand Tour.
CN: So assuming he does the Giro d’Italia and then the Tour de France, does that mean he won’t be going for the overall classification in the Tour like he has done up to this year?
EU: In the Tour his only objective will be as a support rider for Nairo Quintana. He’s got his podium finish [third in 2015] and we can’t partly build our race round that goal again when we’ve also got a rider like Nairo, who’s clearly got the opportunity of winning the Tour. It would be more a case of the Giro being a target for Alejandro then for him to ride as team support for Nairo in the Tour de France. It’s always good for Nairo to have someone like Alejandro backing him up there.
CN: Also, if you’ve got the Olympics straight off afterwards and they are a goal, is it perhaps not better not to go all out in the Tour?
EU: You try to reach all of your goals as fresh as possible. But it’s also true that even if Valverde will have used up a lot of energy in the Tour, he won’t have had the same level of stress and sense of obligation that anybody has in a race when you are trying not to lose even one second each and every day. So he’ll try to be as fresh as possible in the Tour and then see what he can do in a really tough Olympic circuit.
CN: And in the Giro d’Italia, Vavlverde will be racing with the idea of going for the overall?
EU: Yes. In principle, that’s the idea. We want him to see what it’s like, and I think he could fight for the overall. But his calendar in general in 2016 is more based around one-day racing.
CN: As for Nairo Quintana, do you think the Tour route is better for him in 2016 than it was in 2015?
EU: Rather than one or the other suiting Nairo better, I think doing well there is mostly a question of reaching the Tour in good shape. The two routes (2016 and 2015) aren’t so different, except for the pavé stage in the north, which I couldn’t understand was in earlier routes in the first place. That pavé stage produced a high level of stress and added danger to a sport and race which already has high levels of both. So I’m pleased that stage has gone from the 2016 route, and with it has gone our concern you could lose the whole race all on one stage like that.
Overall, whoever wins the Tour has to be a great time triallist and a great climber, as well as consistent. Either way, given the higher number of time trialling kilometres compared to 2015, it’s pretty certain that the rider who is probably most satisfied with the 2016 Tour route will be Chris Froome.