Valverde to kick off 2010 season in Australia

On his first visit to Australia, Alejandro Valverde got the opportunity to spend a day on Kangaroo Island with his Caisse d'Épargne teammates scheduled for the Santos Tour Down Under: Luis Leon Sanchez, José Joaquin Rojas, Ivan Gutierrez, Chente Garcia Acosta and Frenchmen Mathieu Perget and Mathieu Drujon. Under the guidance of their Australian directeur sportif Neil Stephens, they observed koalas, took a swim in the Pacific, fed kangaroos and ended up their wild animal experience with seals on a beach.

"This is the kind of things that are very different to what we do in Europe when we go racing," said Valverde, who seemed delighted to be far away from the worries brought to him by the hearings at CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) about his ban in Italy. "To have a koala at home would be great, this is a nice little sleeping animal," he joked. But as much as he liked the kangaroos as well, he rejected the idea of bringing a seal to his backyard in Murcia.

As the Caisse d'Épargne riders went for a short training ride following sightseeing on the island, the winner of the Vuelta a España was the most aggressive of them on the bike. "I was just playing around," he told Cyclingnews. "I'm feeling good on the road these days, though. I have decent condition even though I'm not at 100 percent yet. I'm excited to resume racing."

Valverde chose to make his first trip to Australia after hearing his training partners from Murcia talking very positively about the Santos Tour Down Under. Sanchez won the event in 2005 and Rojas finished third last year. "This is a race I've never ridden before," Valverde said. "I need to know more about it and I presume that many riders have better experience than me here."

Although the format of the Australian event suits his characteristics of a sprinter that can go uphill and always starts a new season with good form, the Spaniard ruled out the idea of racing for the win. "I won't even try to win it," he said. "I've got teammates here who are great bike riders and more used to this race. I'll be happy to help them. I also like to put some pressure on Rojas' shoulders."

According to Stephens, Valverde will use the Santos Tour Down Under to prepare for his early goals this year. "He'll have a multi-peak season," said the Australian. It will be a total change of plans for the Murcian. Last year he had a very light early season program because his focus was mainly on the Tour de France that he eventually didn't take part in because of the Italian ban. This time around, it'll be the opposite with a race schedule including the Tour of the Mediterranean, the Tour of Haut-Var, Paris-Nice, the Tour of Catalunya, the Tour of the Basque Country and the three Ardennes classics.

"Paris-Nice will be my major goal for the first part of the year," Valverde said. "I want to have a strong debut. Only in the second part of my season I'll think of the Tour de France." This is providing his Italian ban doesn't get extended internationally by CAS in March.

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