Vuelta a Espana 2012 runner-up Alejandro Valverde is ready to win the 100th edition of the Tour de France according to Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue, after his support team, including rising star Nairo Quintana, was announced.
Valverde, a stage winner on last year’s Tour before bagging both the points and combination classification jerseys at the Vuelta, will be leading the Spanish team’s bid to maintain a streak of stage victories in each of the last seven Grand Tours.
And with a strong support team joining the 33-year-old Spaniard when the race rolls out in Corsica on Saturday June 29, Unzue believes Valverde is well equipped to challenge for the general classification this year.
“Our goal is to try and get Alejandro on the overall podium,” he said. “It his biggest ambition this year and we have put all our efforts together this season to have him fit to contest it.
“The last tests during the Spanish road championships show us we have achieved it – he’s coming in perfect form.
“I think he hasn’t been capable of reaching further steps in the Tour more as a matter of bad luck than anything else. I’m convinced he has a Tour podium in his legs, and this must be his chance.”
Valverde has shown good form this year, successfully retaining his Vuelta a Andalucia overall and points classification jerseys as well as earning top-ten finishes at the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour de Romandie, alongside several single-day successes.
His main support in the French mountains will come from 23-year-old Quintana and back-to-back Tour de Suisse champion Rui Costa, 26.
Quintana, expected to challenge last year’s young rider classification winner Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) for the white jersey, won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010 and bagged the overall and points classification jerseys at this year’s Tour of the Basque Country.
And Unzue believes riding for Valverde at this year’s Tour will provide the Colombian sensation with crucial experience as he bids to fulfil his undoubted potential in the coming years.
“We have to be cautious about Nairo,” he said. “I think he created such big expectations due to his impressive results, but I don’t think he’s prepared for us to put on his shoulders such a massive responsibility of fighting for the Tour overall.
“This team’s philosophy has always been letting young riders grow behind another leader, and we were lucky enough to be right.
“I want him to know the race, to learn. This will be a learning course for him alongside Alejandro.”
Portuguese national time trial champion Costa, a stage winner on the Tour in 2011, is another upcoming young rider for Movistar and also earned a podium finish at this year’s Tour de Romandie.
Alongside those three are Valverde’s ‘guardian angels’ – Ruben Plaza, Imanol Erviti, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Jose Joaquin Rojas – all of whom rode in last year’s Tour too.
The latter three will be hoping for better luck this year however after injury saw them withdraw early last time around – Rojas having broken his collarbone in stage three and Erviti and Gutierrez being injured in the spectacular crash during stage six.
Finally, Spanish national time trial champion Jonathan Castroviejo will make his Tour debut and the team is completed by 26-year-old Costa Rican climbing specialist Andrey Amador.
Unzue is confident Movistar’s balance of youth and experience will see them perform well in the Tour, and he predicts the final week – featuring four mountain stages and a time trial – will be most crucial in settling the general classification.
“We have a strong, balanced, experienced group,” he said. “Grown men like Ivan, Imanol, Plaza or Rojas, with many GTs in their careers, the guardian-angels for Alejandro.
“Plus two men less experienced but in great and which I’m sure will do a great Tour – Amador and Castroviejo.
“Everything will be decided into the third week. It will be important to save energy for it, because it’s really interesting.”
He added: “If you look at this season’s results, there’s no doubt Froome is ahead of the rest for the overall.
“But due to their career performances and their build-up to the race, I think Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], Alejandro and [Alberto] Contador will be the alternatives, as well as Evans – we’ll see how he does after the Giro.”
Tour de France 2013 – Movistar
Jose Ivan Gutierrez
Jose Joaquin Rojas