Valverde was in a great position last year coming out of the Pyrenees, lying second overall. However, a mechanical incident on stage 13 saw him squeezed out of the fight for the top places overall.
In the twelve months since, the veteran Spaniard has not only picked up another podium placing in the Vuelta a España last autumn, as well as a bronze medal in the world championships, but so far this season he has taken nine victories.
The big difference as Valverde eyes the Tour this time around is the make-up of his team. He will be without Nairo Quintana, who took second overall last year before tackling – and winning – the Giro d'Italia this season, and also without former teammate Rui Costa, who has moved on to Lampre-Merida. However, the Spaniard is optimistic that Movistar will have a strong enough line-up to back his bid for the podium – at the least – in this Tour.
"We're a real band of warriors in Movistar, and even compared to last year, collectively we're strong," Valverde told Cyclingnews earlier this year. "We’re not a team that asks other squads to race and then improvises on that. These days, Movistar makes the races. And if we're lucky and things pan out in our favour, then we win."
Although Valverde is going for a top three finish in the Tour, that does not mean he will be riding more defensively. "I don't rule out anything, it's much more a question of what the race decides. If I have to attack, I will.
"It’s a pity that Quintana's not racing, because you feel more at ease with him there too. But the fact he's not in the race doesn't give me a greater degree of manoeuvre when it comes to the other favourites. I'm not the type of rider who's allowed to make a move just like that."
Valverde has had a remarkably solid build-up to the Tour. After a successful Ardennes Classics campaign, where he won Flèche Wallonne and took second place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he took on a long spell of altitude training at Sierra Nevada. He return to action in time to take second place overall at the Route du Sud, a stunning victory in the national time trial championship and silver in the Spanish national road race behind teammate Ion Izaguirre.
"After the Tour, I'll do the Vuelta, but I've never had a problem with that, although that's why in the first part of the season, I didn't do too many stage races. Instead I focussed on one-day events, so I'd come to the second part of the season fresher."
Regardless of what happens in the Tour, Valverde says things are going so well, "I am much more relaxed. It's been a very good season, and when that happens, you're not so stressed out."
Speaking to Biciciclismo last weekend, Valverde recognised that "a point will come in the future when I will have to work for Nairo, and that won't be a problem at all." But for now, in the Tour, Valverde has everything to play for – for himself.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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