Alejandro Valverde's suspension ends at the end of this year and the disgraced Spaniard is actively negotiating with teams to restart his career. Several teams seem to be interested but the rider and his manager are being very discreet about exact details.
Valverde told Cyclingnews there his decision depends on two criteria. "I want a team part of the WorldTour of course and to have the opportunity to race the biggest events", he explained.
"But I need a friendly atmosphere too. The team is your second family and the riders should be real mates, not only on the bike but also when we meet for dinner and so on. Confidence is very important."
Spanish media reported last week that Valverde was close to signing a three-year contract with Movistar, formerly sponsored by Caisse d'Epargne and where Valverde rode as a leader from January 2005 to May 2010. He trained alongside his former teammates last February at a training camp in Mallorca, and the team manager Eusebio Unzué has confirmed several times that he hopes to sign Valverde.
However Cyclingnews understands that no deal has yet been done to ensure that Valverde joins Movistar.
Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere admitted on Friday to Het Nieuwsblad that he was also chasing the Spanish rider. But he said his number one choice was Philippe Gilbert.
"Many teams are interested both in Valverde and Gilbert and they will push the negotiations with Valverde once we know where Gilbert is going", one of Valverde’s entourage told Cyclingnews.
The Spaniard’s ban for his involvement in Operacion Puerto ends on December 31.
As a former suspended rider, Valverde won't be allowed to score UCI points for his team until 2014, according to new UCI rules. However several team managers believe it is worth signing him.
"I've no doubts his level will be very similar [with that one before his suspension]", Unzué said.
Highly motivated for a successful comeback, Valverde told Cyclingnews he has ridden 18500km since January 1 this year.
"I trained exactly the same way than before, which means every day. In fact I even trained a little bit more, doing more kilometres and working more on intensity".
Valverde also took part in some cyclosportives in Spain, as a VIP guest but without a number on his back. He notably crossed the line first of the Sierra Nevada Limite, on July 9.
Valverde is following the Tour de France closely on television. He is circumspect about Alberto Contador's chances of victory.
"It won't be easy for him [to succeed] because in the first Pyrenees stage we expected him to reduce the gap [in GC] with the other favourites. Instead of that he lost a few more seconds and we saw he was suffering in the last meters," he said.
But Valverde also pointed out that 'The Tour is far from being finished" and he said he is "confident [Contador] will improve everyday to come back at his best level maybe in the Alps."
At the first Pyrenean stage, in Luz-Ardiden, he also enjoyed Samuel Sanchez's stage win.
"I know how hard he works and he deserved such a big win in the Tour", said Valverde. "Besides that he is also a really nice guy".
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