Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is taking the back roads to the Tour de France this year.
The Spanish veteran avoided traditional warm-up races like the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, and raced the Route du Sud instead.
With one eye on the Vuelta a España and world championships later this season, Valverde wants to start the Tour as fresh as possible.
“I believe I will arrive in good shape for the Tour,” Valverde told Spanish journalists in Madrid on Wednesday. “Above all, I will be motivated to race, and will be fresh mentally. I think we made the right decision to race Route du Sud instead of the Dauphiné or Swiss tour.”
Rather than race the longer, more demanding courses at either the Dauphiné or Swiss tour, Valverde opted instead to head to the Route du Sud. Valverde finished second to a surprisingly strong Nico Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the three-day race across the French Pyrénées.
By skipping the traditional warm-up races, Valverde is hoping to rewrite the script on how to approach the Tour.
After competing in this weekend’s Spanish national championships in Ponferrada, Valverde will enter the Tour with 32 days of racing.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will have the most race days in his legs, with 44. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is skipping Spanish nationals, will hit Leeds with 33, while defending champion Chris Froome (Sky), who’s seen his spring disrupted by illness and injury, will have completed only 27 days of racing.
After an impressive spring classics season, where he was fourth at Amstel Gold Race, first at La Flèche Wallonne, and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Valverde didn’t race until Route du Sud last weekend. Instead, he spent four weeks training at altitude in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, where he bumped shoulders with such riders as John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano).
Movistar is hoping the altitude training will pay off going into the second half of the Tour.
Key for Valverde will be to remain in contention prior to the Tour’s decisive climbing stages — he has a track record of bad luck, including stage 13 at last year’s Tour, when he lost 10 minutes with an ill-timed mechanical in the crosswinds.
To better prepare for the cobblestones featured in stage 5 this year, Valverde was the lone GC favorite who opted to race the northern classics, with hopes of getting a taste of what’s in store on the decisive stage.
For this weekend’s Spanish nationals, where Movistar will be the team to beat, Valverde will also get his first close look at the same course that will be featured in the September’s world championships.
“I like the Ponferrada circuit, more so that it’s the same one we’ll see for the worlds,” Valverde continued. “In a national championship, you always have to give everything, even though the most important thing this weekend will be to look for sensations, and arrive at [the Tour start] on July 5 in the best condition.”
Many view Valverde as an outsider for the final podium, but Movistar brings a full squad committed to pushing the Spaniard as far up the GC as possible.
Movistar is leaving recently crowned Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana at home and packing the squad with riders to protect Valverde.
The team’s final selection has been yet revealed, but riders such as Ruben Plaza, Ion Iguirre, and Beñat Intxausti will be there to support Valverde in an all-out bid for the podium.
“I’d like to get through a Tour without setbacks,” Valverde told VeloNews earlier this year. “I believe that I have the legs to do a good Tour. And for me, a good Tour means the podium.”