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Giro d'Italia

Sutherland bullish on Valverde’s chances

With two riders in the top three, Movistar has a strong hand to play at the Giro between Valverde's experience and Amador's top form.

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FORMIGINE, Italy (VN) — Movistar is riding into an enviable position as the Giro d’Italia lurches toward its decisive finale in the northern mountains.

Andrey Amador and Alejandro Valverde are stacked up two-three in the overall, and odds are tilted greatly in their favor the more the roads tilt upward. Giro rookie Valverde safely negotiated Sunday’s long time trial without major time losses or mishaps, and Amador went on the attack in stage 10 on Tuesday to rekindle his podium hopes. As the Giro wears down the field, Movistar teammate Rory Sutherland said the team is quietly confident that Valverde will come out on top.

“We’re having fun, like we do in most races,” Sutherland said. “People have been saying, ‘Oh, Valverde doesn’t know how to race the Giro.’ That’s just bogus. At the end of the day, it’s just another bike race, and Valverde knows how to race his bike. He’s right there, with all his main rivals. He’s raring to go into the mountains.”

Speaking via telephone as he stretched out for an evening massage on Monday’s rest day, the Australian laid out the Giro from the team’s perspective. Movistar lost key climbing domestique Javi Moreno to injury, perhaps putting more pressure on Sutherland, but the vibe is optimistic.

“The worst is yet to come. The hard, selective stuff is coming now in the next two weeks. In our camp, things have been going well,” he continued. “Everyone is happy where we are in GC. We are within striking distance, and is everyone is pleased how we got through the first half of the Giro.”

All teams are trying to keep their GC options open, and Movistar is no exception. Etixx – Quick-Step and Astana also have two riders apiece in the top 10. Just as Movistar did at the Tour de France last year, with Nairo Quintana second and Valverde third, Sutherland said the team is going to keep playing both cards, but the first option is always Valverde.

“Amador is a second card to play, but Alejandro is the guy we’re going for,” he said. “The fact that we have two up in GC is a better scenario for us. Unlike other teams, this team has always shown solidarity, there’s never any discussion or drama. I don’t know if it’s the Hispanic flavor or the team mentality, but it always seems to work here.”

So far, no one rider has been able to stamp his authority on the race. The course profile hasn’t been very cooperative, and the Giro GC is tight at the halfway point. Sky’s Mikel Landa was the first major favorite to exit when he pulled out Tuesday with a bad stomach.

Sutherland said Valverde’s steady hand, experience, and consistency will come in handy in the Giro’s final week.

“I think it makes for a cool and interesting Giro,” he said. “Sure, it would be better for our team to have taken five minutes and the pink jersey, but that’s not the reality. Getting through the time trial [Sunday] was important. Zakarin pushed it too hard, and he crashed, and so did Urán. Alejandro was prudent, but sometimes that’s the smart card to play even if you might lose a little time. Everything is still in play.”

And when Valverde is within striking distance of the finish line, he typically comes up aces.