Valverde hoping to reach Paris-Nice podium

Valverde doesn't expect to win, but hopes to make the podium at Paris-Nice,

SISTERON, France (VN) – Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) admits his chances of winning Paris-Nice are slim, but he’s still hoping to cap a strong week by earning a spot on the final podium.

Valverde survived Saturday’s rollercoaster stage intact on a day that saw third-place man Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) crash out of contention.

Leipheimer’s absence will bolster the podium hopes of Valverde, now third, at 18 seconds back of race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky).

“I am going to give it my all (Sunday), but I know it will be difficult against a time trialist of the level of Wiggins,” Valverde told “Having it a climbing time trial is better for me than if it were on the flats. I’ve been working hard on the time trial, so we’ll see how I can do.”

Valverde won a stage and holds the green points jersey, but wasn’t able to gain any time on the climbing stage to Mende on Thursday.

Many expected Valverde to attack Wiggins and Leipheimer, but all he could do was manage to take the second-place time bonus ahead of Wiggins on the same time.

“Sky made the pace of the climb very high. It was hard enough just to stay with Wiggins because he was very strong,” Valverde said. “I had hoped to attack, but Westra went and the climb just wasn’t that long.”

Valverde said he’s satisfied with how Paris-Nice has unfolded, his first top-level race since his comeback from his two-year racing ban for links to the Operación Puerto blood doping ring.

Valverde will race the Volta a Catalunya later this month and then ride into the Ardennes classics, where he hopes to win “any one of them.”

“I am happy with how I’ve raced this week. I made it into the decisive breakaway in the (second) stage and I’ve won a stage and finished second in another one and have the points jersey,” he said. “The legs are at a good level and we still have some time to improve before the Ardennes classics.”