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Alejandro Valverde is set to return to the elite peloton next season after serving his controversial ban for links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal dating back to 2006.
Valverde is poised to return to Movistar, though the UCI put the kibosh on a planned presentation ceremony last week in Madrid because he is still under a ban.
Team manager Eusebio Unzue has welcomed Valverde back to the fold and believes that he can return to his prolific best despite sitting on the sidelines since 2010.
“I believe that Alejandro is going to continue achieving the same results as when he left us,” Unzue told the Spanish daily El Dario Navarra. “The best is knowing that in whatever race he goes to, there’s a chance he’s going to win. That’s a blessing for everyone.”
Unzue said Valverde continued to train hard and lived like a professional during his ban, keeping his weight down and putting in lots of training kilometers.
Though his racing schedule is not yet finalized, Valverde is expected to return to the Ardennes and the Tour de France, the scene of some of his most successful results.
“I would never say that Alejandro cannot win the Tour. One must keep alive their ambitions and to discount the biggest objectives doesn’t do anyone any good,” Unzue continued. “Alejandro will be able to return and be just as competitive as he was before.”
Unzue also reflected on the tumultuous year that Movistar endured, with the shocking death of Xavi Tondo in May and the debilitating crash suffered by Mauricio Soler at the Tour de Suisse.
“The setbacks can have two possible effects: either it knocks you down or it makes you a little bit stronger,” he said. “Far from getting knocked down, we came out of it stronger.
“When we heard about Tondo’s death, we were at the Giro. The guys were in the hallway of the hotel, sitting down and we said, ‘What do we do?’ I suggested we stay. For the next few days, the team was all but absent, but Lastras and Arroyo pulled up the others and there are the results.”