Movistar targets final podium for Alejandro Valverde with Tour de France team
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Movistar targets final podium for Alejandro Valverde with Tour de France team

by Ben Atkins at 7:27 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Nairo Quintana and Rui Costa lead support squad for Murcian’s “biggest ambition this year”

alejandro valverdeMovistar will start the Tour de France on Saturday, June 29th, with the aim of putting Alejandro Valverde on the final podium with the nine-man team announced today. The 33-year-old ‘Bala-Verde’ took his best result in the three-week race back in 2007, when he finished sixth. He was just 20th last year after losing time on some of the aggressive early stages, but salvaged his race with a prestigious stage victory on the summit finish of Peyragudes.

Valverde will have the full force of the Movistar team behind him in this year’s race, however, led by Colombian Nairo Quintana and Portuguese all-rounder Rui Costa.

"Our goal is to try and get Alejandro on the overall podium,” explained team manager Eusebio Unzué. “It is his biggest ambition this year, and we have put all our efforts together this season to have him fit to contest it. The last tests during the Spanish road championships show us we have achieved it - he's coming in perfect form.”

Since winning the the Vuelta a Andalucía in February, Valverde’s results have been steady, if unspectacular, as he has built towards the Tour de France. A recent seventh place in the Critérium du Dauphiné, and fifth and sixth in the Spanish time trial and road race championships respectively, show Unzué that his team leader is ready to take on the Tour.

“I think he hasn't been capable reaching further steps in the Tour more as a matter of bad luck than anything else,” Unzué said. “I'm convinced he has a Tour podium in his legs, and this must be his chance. It will be important to get over any troubles on the first week, because the stress you have to go under every year always leaves a GC favourite out of contention.”

Quintana has barely raced since winning the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in April, but the 23-year-old Colombian will surely be one of the Spanish team’s danger men in the Tour’s big mountain stages. With a complicated start to the race, however, Unzué is careful not to put too much pressure on his young rider.

“This time, the race depart in Corsica will be even harder due to the narrow roads. We have to be cautious about Nairo,” Unzué said. “I think he created such big expectations due to his impressive results, but I don't think he's prepared for us to put on his shoulders such a massive responsibility of fighting for the Tour overall. This team's philosophy has always been letting young riders grow behind another leader, and we were lucky enough to be right. I won't be putting pressure on him - we can't risk putting him into risks and losing him. I want him to know the race, to learn. This will be a learning course for him alongside Alejandro.”

Costa, however, has proven that he has reached his peak at just the right time, with a final-day victory in the Tour de Suisse, followed up with victory in the Portuguese time trial championship last week.

“We also have Rui Costa; we will see how he keeps progressing - he's still young but has much experience, and we can't rule him out,” explained Unzué. “I'm sure he will be doing a great Tour and, why not, taking a big leap forward. Apart from those three, we have a strong, balanced, experienced group. Grown men like Iván, Imanol, Plaza or Rojas, with many GT's in their careers, the guardian-angels for Alejandro. Plus, two men less experienced, but in great form and which I'm sure will do a great Tour, such as Amador and Castroviejo.”

With fewer time trials in this year’s Tour, Unzué feels that the climbing strength of his team will be enough to get Valverde onto the podium this time.

“Apart from the natural selection by misfortune in the first week, the Pyrenees and the Alps will be decisive,” he said. “The TT's seem a bit less prejudicial for the climbers and the TTT is a short one, so it won't be decisive either.

“The first Pyrenean mountain-top finish will be really important - it will be the first mountain stage, and the next one on Sunday the 7th, despite not finishing in a summit, will also be hard, Unzué continued. “But everything will be decided into the third week. It will be important to save energy for it, because it's really interesting - four mountain stages and a demanding time trial.

Unzué knows exactly who the big favourite for the race will be, but has also identified several other riders to watch, who will be in the fight with Valverde for the final podium.

“If you look at this season's results, there's no doubt [Chris] Froome is ahead of the rest for the overall,” he said. “Due to their career performances and their build-up for the race, I think Purito [Joaquim Rodríguez], Alejandro and [Alberto] Contador will be the alternatives, as well as [Cadel] Evans - we'll see how he does after the Giro. Of course, riders like [Jurgen] Van den Broeck will be on the fight and some others will be confirming themselves, such as [Tejay] van Garderen or [Thibaut] Pinot, that up-and-coming generation who will be hitting hard in the future."

Movistar Team for the Tour de France
Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa, Nairo Quintana, Andrey Amador, Jonathan Castroviejo, Rubén Plaza, Imanol Erviti, Iván Gutiérrez and José Joaquín Rojas

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