Tour de France
Valverde targets podium spot
Alejandro Valverde (File)
Liege - Spain's Alejandro Valverde insists he can upset the form book and defy the challenges of a time trial-heavy Tour de France to grab a coveted podium spot on this year's race.
With two long time trials on stages nine (41.5 km) and 19 (53.5 km), Australia's reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and Britain's Bradley Wiggins (Sky) will start as the big yellow jersey favourites on Saturday.
Movistar team leader Valverde, who only returned to competitive cycling in January following a doping ban, is not a renowned time triallist.
But the 32-year-old, returning to the race for the first time since 2008 when he won the second stage in Saint Brieuc, believes he can fight off a quality-packed field to fight for third spot in Paris on July 22.
"It's clear that with 100 km of time trials the race route isn't exactly in my favour," Valverde said on Friday, a day before a 6.4 km opening prologue opens the three-week race.
"But the Tour de France is not two days, it's 21 and all the big contenders will be on the start line with more or less the same condition.
"Wiggins and Evans are the clear favourites, there's no doubt about that, but our team is in top condition and we intend to fight all the way for a podium spot.
"It's going to be a hard three weeks, and a lot of things can happen."
Valverde, whose only Grand Tour win is the 2009 Tour of Spain, might not be the only one secretly wishing for the many pitfalls on the race to boost his own bid.
Last year Wiggins crashed out on stage seven with a broken collarbone while in the past Evans' attempts to win the yellow jersey, eventually accomplished in 2011, have been regularly beset by injuries suffered on the race.
In such an eventuality, the race would open up for several riders who, like Valverde, are looking longingly at the podium including Italian Vincenzo Nibali, the 2010 Tour of Spain champion, American Levi Leipheimer, Dutch climbing specialist Robert Gesink and former Tour de France runner-up Denis Menchov of Russia.
Their best approach, at least in theory, would be trying to gain as much advantage over Wiggins and Evans on the mountain stage between the two time trials.
Valverde admitted it won't be plain sailing, but added: "There aren't many (three) summit finishes but there are a lot of tricky mountain stages, some finishing downhill and with many pitfalls.
"If we lose time in the first time trial, it's clear we have to take it back somewhere."