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Valverde skipping Amstel Gold for Giro prep

The Spaniard has never won the opening Ardennes classic, and this year he's racing at Vuelta a Castilla y León to prep for his Giro debut.

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If there was any doubt about how serious Alejandro Valverde is for his Giro d’Italia debut next month, just look at how he’s taking on the spring classics.

Earlier this month, the Movistar captain pulled the plug on a planned start at the Tour of Flanders to train at altitude as he sharpens his pre-Giro form. And instead of racing Amstel Gold Race this weekend, the only race of Ardennes week he’s never won, he’s racing the three-day Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Valverde will return to the Ardennes next week to defend his titles at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“Tirreno-Adriatico and the pace of the race made Alejandro look toward the Giro even more excited than he already was,” Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué said in a team release. “That’s why we both agreed it was better to change his race program, so he tackles the first grand tour of the year with focus and calmness, with the best physical condition possible, yet not avoiding two races — Flèche and Liège — where we both have got great results during the last decade.”

The Vuelta a Castilla y León across northern Spain starts Friday and ends Sunday with a summit finish to Alto de Candelario in the mountains west of Madrid.

The Spanish tour will give Valverde a few days of race speed in his legs before returning to the Ardennes, where he won both Flèche and Liège last year in dominant fashion.

This year, Valverde is taking on the Giro for the first time of his career, and he’s showing signs that he’s going all-in for a shot at overall victory. The Giro should see one of its deepest GC fields in a while, with 2013 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Mikel Landa (Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin), Jean Christophe Péraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale), 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) all lining up with podium ambitions.

With Valverde targeting the Giro, the road is open for Nairo Quintana to take over full leadership at the Tour de France in July. Valverde might start the Tour as well, but he said he would ride to support Quintana. After placing third in last year’s edition, Valverde said he would also use the Tour to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

On Friday, Movistar released its long list for the Giro, with 11 names that will be trimmed to nine starters after the Tour de Romandie and Vuelta a Asturias in early May.

Joining Valverde will be eight of these 10 riders: Andrey Amador, Giovanni Visconti, Alex Dowsett, Jasha Sütterlin, Rory Sutherland, Antonio Pedrero, JJ Rojas, José Herrada, Javi Moreno and Rubén Fernández.

No matter who gets selected, Valverde will start the Giro with one of the strongest teams in the peloton.