Hot off a dominant performance at Spanish national championships, Movistar roars into the Tour de France with an all-out effort to put Alejandro Valverde onto the final podium in Paris.
Valverde won his first Spanish national time trial title Friday, and then helped Movistar teammate Ion Izagirre win the road title Sunday, with Valverde crossing the line second.
“The goal is fighting for a podium place in Paris with Alejandro,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué in a team release Monday announcing the Tour lineup. “He’s coming into the race very strong, and confident about his chances. It’s a route that suits him pretty well.”
Valverde is clearly in good form despite taking a different approach to the Tour, which included the Route du Sud instead of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) won the Route du Sud, but Valverde was strong in his return to competition for the first time since the Ardennes classics.
“I am optimistic about the Tour,” Valverde said Friday after winning the Spanish TT title. “Winning this race boosts my morale even more. I don’t see myself having to envy anyone at the Tour. I think I have good chances for the podium.”
A solid, experienced squad is backing Valverde, but the team decided to leave British rider Alex Dowsett at home — he was suffering from a chest infection.
In his place is Italian Giovanni Visconti, who rebounded from injury earlier this season to find form just in time for the Tour.
The remainder of Movistar features a heavy Spanish accent, with Imanol Erviti, Jesús Herrada, Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Rubén Plaza, and José Joaquín Rojas. French climber John Gadret rounds out the squad.
This is the 32nd consecutive start for a team managed by Unzué, who helped usher in Spain’s golden era with Banesto and riders like Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain.
This could well be Valverde’s last chance to lead the team, especially with the rise of Nairo Quintana. The Colombian was second overall at the 2013 Tour, but raced and won this year’s Giro d’Italia. Next year, Quintana will lead the team at the Tour, so Valverde wants to take full advantage of what will likely be his final year as outright leader at the Tour.
Key for Valverde is making it through the first half of the race unharmed. Last year, he lost 10 minutes — and all hope of victory — when he suffered a mechanical just as the peloton was breaking into echelons in heavy crosswinds in stage 13.
“We know there are all kinds of traps he’ll have to get over,” Unzué said. “The stress of this race makes all the risks to only increase. We hope to get through the first week in good shape, and start the first weekend in the mountains in the best possible condition.”
Movistar for Tour de France (July 5-27)
Alejandro Valverde (SPA)
Imanol Erviti (SPA)
Jesús Herrada (SPA)
Beñat Intxausti (SPA)
Ion Izagirre (SPA)
Rubén Plaza (SPA)
José Joaquín Rojas (SPA)
John Gadret (FRA)
Giovanni Visconti (ITA)