By Andrew Hood
Alejandro Valverde, the rising star who’s pumping excitement back into Spanish racing, admits he dreams of winning the Tour de France.
The Illes Balears captain said winning a stage at Courchevel ahead of Lance Armstrong last July was a “dream come true,” but said his ultimate goal is to win the Tour outright.
“I’m only 25 years old and I have a lot of time to try to win, but I don’t pretend to try to break Armstrong’s record, but to win one Tour,” Valverde said in an interview with Marca. “If I can win two, even better.”
Valverde’s Tour debut last July was cut short with a knee injury, but not before he won a dramatic mountain stage and electrified a nation hungry for its first Tour winner since Miguel Indurain took the last of his five titles in 1995.
For 2006, Valverde — a solid climber with improving time-trialing skills — will put even more emphasis on making a run for the Tour podium. Still, he insists that riders such as Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov will be the favorites for victory.
“Every year I feel stronger. I notice a progression and it just feeds my motivation and I am more interested in the materials, the position, the training,” he said. “I’m already excited to begin training again in earnest.”
Valverde, whose winning ways have earned him such nicknames as El Imbatido (The Unbeaten One) and Balaverde (Green Bullet), seems to have taken a page from Armstrong’s winning blueprint.
Despite the departure of fourth-place finisher Francisco Mancebo to Ag2r, Illes Balears will be stronger than ever with the addition of Fran Pérez, Constantino Zaballa, Oscar Pereiro and Joaquín Rodríguez.
Milram to debut at TDU
New German-Italian team Milram will debut its colors at the Tour Down Under later this month, but neither of the team’s star sprinters, Erik Zabel or Alessandro Petacchi, will make the trip to Australia.
Seven ProTour teams among the field of 12 teams will head south January 17-22 for the Tour Down Under. Other teams include Liberty Seguros, Ag2r, Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole, Davitamon-Lotto and Liquigas.
Ag2r ramps up
Riders from Ag2r Prévoyance will unite in the south of France starting Thursday for its latest training camp ahead of the 2006 season.
Eight riders heading to the Tour Down Under won’t make the trip, but the remaining 20 team members will undergo training rides from 60km to 180km on the roads near l’Isle sur la Sorgue in the Vaucluse region.
Ag2r for Tour Down Under: José Luis Arrieta, Sylvain Calzati, Cyril Dessel, Samuel Dumoulin, Simon Gerrans, Yuriy Krivtsov, Ludovic Turpin and Alexandre Usov. Sport director: Gilles Mas
Euskaltel heads south
Euskaltel-Euskadi will leave the damp confines of its home in northern Spain’s Basque Country for a week of training in Benidorm along the Mediterranean Coast.
The team will train from Jan. 15-22 and return to Basque Country for the team’s official presentation January 26 in Vitoria.
Along with stars Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi will ride with 28 riders for the coming season. Seven new riders join the team, and ex-pro Igor González de Galdeano has signed on as a sport director.