LIÈGE, Belgium (AFP) —Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) insists he can upset the form book and defy the challenges of a time-trial-heavy Tour de France to grab a coveted podium spot on this year’s race.
With two long time trials on stages 9 (41.5km) and 19 (53.5km), reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Sky) will start as the big yellow-jersey favorites on Saturday.
Valverde, who only returned to competitive cycling in January following a doping ban, is not a renowned time trialist.
But the 32-year-old, returning to the race for the first time since 2008 when he won the second stage in Saint Brieuc, believes he can fight off a quality-packed field to fight for the third spot in Paris on July 22.
“It’s clear that with 100km of time trials the race route isn’t exactly in my favor,” Valverde said Friday, a day before a 6.4km prologue opens the three-week race.
“But the Tour de France is not two days, it’s 21, and all the big contenders will be on the start line with more or less the same condition.
“Wiggins and Evans are the clear favorites, there’s no doubt about that, but our team is in top condition and we intend to fight all the way for a podium spot.
“It’s going to be a hard three weeks, and a lot of things can happen.”
Valverde, whose only grand-tour win is the 2009 Vuelta a España, might not be the only one secretly hoping the many pitfalls on the race boost his own bid.
Last year Wiggins crashed out on stage 7 with a broken collarbone. And defending champ Evans has been regularly beset by injuries suffered on the race.
In such an eventuality, the race would open up for several riders who, like Valverde, are looking longingly at the podium —Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and former Tour runner-up Denis Menchov (Katusha).
Their best approach, at least in theory, would be trying to gain as much advantage over Wiggins and Evans on the mountain stage between the two time trials.
Valverde admitted it won’t be plain sailing, but added: “There aren’t many (three) summit finishes but there are a lot of tricky mountain stages, some finishing downhill and with many pitfalls.
“If we lose time in the first time trial, it’s clear we have to take it back somewhere.”