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Tour de France

León Sánchez ready to lead Caisse d’Epargne at Tour

Luis León Sánchez says he’s ready to lead Caisse d’Epargne if star Alejandro Valverde isn’t allowed to race. Valverde is appealing a decision by Italian authorities to ban him for two years for what they say is clear evidence linking him to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal. If Valverde isn’t allowed to race the Tour, his Caisse d’Epargne team will lean heavily on the 25-year-old León Sánchez during the season’s most important race.

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León Sánchez says he’s ready to lead his team through the Tour.

Photo: Graham Watson

Luis León Sánchez says he’s ready to lead Caisse d’Epargne if star Alejandro Valverde isn’t allowed to race.

Valverde is appealing a decision by Italian authorities to ban him for two years for what they say is clear evidence linking him to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.

If Valverde isn’t allowed to race the Tour, his Caisse d’Epargne team will lean heavily on the 25-year-old León Sánchez during the season’s most important race.

“I’m excited to go well and right now, more than anything, waiting to see if Valverde can be with us at the start of the Tour, because the team is completely built around him,” León Sánchez said. “I want to be optimistic. If he isn’t there with us, I will try to be at the front, but it would be very different. It would be a completely different race.”

León Sánchez has enjoyed a breakout season through the first half of 2009, winning at the Tour Mediterranean and Paris-Nice as well as taking fifth at the Vuelta a País Vasco.

Last year, León Sánchez won a stage at the Tour and finished 59th overall as he worked to help Valverde rode into the top 10.

If Valverde doesn’t race the Tour, more pressure will be thrust upon him and former Tour winner Oscar Pereiro.

León Sánchez hasn’t raced since the Tour de Picardie in mid-May and returns to competition this weekend with the Route du Sud, which opens Thursday in Pau.

“I am feeling good, but with a little uncertainty I’ve only raced three days since mid-April. I am sure I will have to suffer at Route du Sud to arrive at the level I want,” he said. “It’s a hard race, without a doubt, because we’ll climb Tourmalet, Soulor and Portet d’Aspet. What I don’t know is if this is the best way to prepare before the Tour. I would have liked to have raced the Tour de Suisse, but my team told me Route du Sud was ideal for me.”

León Sánchez will also race the Spanish national championships in late June before lining up for the Tour.