Valverde starts season in Mallorca

Valverde after taking his second stage win at the 2005 Mallorca Challenge

Valverde after taking his second stage win at the 2005 Mallorca Challenge (Image credit: Franklin Tello)

Spanish Wunderkind Alejandro Valverde will return to racing this Sunday, February 5. The 25 year-old is starting his 2006 season at the Mallorca Challenge, where he will compete in three of the five one-day races the Spanish island is hosting. Describing his current form as "neither good nor bad", the Illes Balears rider who last year won two of the Challenge stages as well as the general classification, told Spanish newspaper Marca he hadn't set his mind on an early season victory this year. Instead, he was going to ride, "a mountain stage to give [team-mate and 2004 Mallorca Challenge winner] Toni Colom a hand," as his objectives lay further ahead: the Belgian Classics, the Tour de France and the World Championships in Salzburg, Austria.

Asked if he thought he was ready for an overall victory in the Tour, Valverde declined. "I can see myself winning a stage and placing in top five," he said. "It's not impossible [to win the Tour in 2006], but I might still lack one year of experience and maturity. I'm only 25 years old."

For the nearer future, the Spaniard is eyeing Liège-Bastogne-Liège as the Classic that suits him best. "I think I could do very well in both Amstel and Liège. If I had to choose, I'd go with Liège because of the type of ascents it includes: they're not walls, but climbs," he explained.

For this year's overall Tour de France victory, the Spaniard pointed at Team CSC's Ivan Basso as his top favourite. "People say Ullrich [will win], but I think it will be Basso because he has greatly improved his time trialling and in the mountains, he's stronger than Ullrich," the man from Murcia continued.

Valverde, too, has been working on his time trial capacities over the European winter, improving his skills with the help of an Italian biomechanic, Alessandro Mariano. Since adjusting the position of his cleats at the Pinarello factory in November 2005, the rider has been changing his pedalling frequency in a bid to imitate the style if the seven-times Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong.

"I'm riding with a different cadence now," Valverde said. "Before, I rode an average of 84-85 pedal strokes per minute. Now, in training, I reach an average of 90-95. I'm more agile, I feel better. I waste less energy and my muscles recuperate better afterwards."

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