Adelaide - Spanish cycling star Alejandro Valverde said on Wednesday that his time away from racing due to a two-year doping suspension has given him new perspective on the sport.
Valverde was banned for two years from January 2010 after being implicated in Operation Puerto, a blood-doping ring in Spain involving more than 50 riders. He gave up the No 1 world ranking in the process.
The 31-year-old Valverde makes his return to racing at the January 15-22 Tour Down Under in South Australia, the opening ProTour event of the year. He'll lead the all-Spanish Movistar team.
Valverde said through a translator after arriving in Australia on Wednesday that he had no expectations for the tour, but he was calm and wanted to enjoy the race.
"I'm starting to looking at things a little bit differently because I had sort of taken a back seat from cycling," Valverde said through the translator.
While he never tested positive for a banned drug, Valverde was reported to have been linked to the doping ring by DNA evidence seized in police raids in 2006.
The 2009 Tour of Spain champion also plans to compete in the Tour de France this year, with hopes of taking the title currently held by Australia's Cadel Evans.
"That is the most important race in the world and obviously I want to (reach) a great level there in the Tour de France," he said through the translator.
Despite being out of the sport for two years, Valverde is considered among the favourites to win the Tour Down Under.
He last raced in the tour in 2010, finishing third in the stage at Willunga - a result that was later erased when his doping ban was confirmed.
The same stage in this year's race will finish on the summit of the Old Willunga Hill climb, suiting Valverde's riding style.