Valverde resumes career

2012-01-17 10:22

Adelaide - Spanish cycling star Alejandro Valverde resumed top level competition at the Tour Down Under on Tuesday, but with modest ambitions as he sets his sights on bigger goals this season.

Valverde recently served a two-year ban for his implication in the Operation Puerto drugs scandal which erupted in 2006, and has been eligible to compete since January 1, 2012.

Now plying his trade for the Spanish team Movistar is something of a homecoming for Valverde. It is the successor to his former team Caisse d'Epargne, which in turn succeeded another former team, Iles Balears.

Due to his climbing and sprinting abilities Valverde has been touted as a possible winner of the six-stage Tour Down Under, the first of 28 events on the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour which ends on Sunday.

But Movistar sports director Jose-Luis Arrieta played down those predictions, adding that his star rider aims to peak for the hilly spring classics then later, at the Tour de France.

Arrieta said: "He's always done well at Liege, and this year it will be on his radar again. If everything goes to plan in this early part of the year he will be looking to do all the Ardennes Classics."

Three one-day races make up the Ardennes Classics - Fleche Wallonne, the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Belgian Philippe Gilbert became only the second rider in history to win all three in a single year, in 2011, but Valverde is a two-time winner at Liege, in 2006 and 2008, and has also won Fleche Wallonne.

Surprisingly, Valverde has expressed his aim to finish well in the Tour de France. Despite winning the Tour of Spain in 2009, the more difficult Tour de France has never really smiled favourably on him.

The 2012 edition could be even more of a challenge for the 31-year-old as it features over 100 km of time trials -- a discipline that Valverde has previously struggled to master.

"He's worked a lot on his time trialling, but we have to wait and see whether he's really made progress," admitted Arrieta.

Valverde will continue his preparations for the coming season at the Mallorca Challenge, a five-day stage race held in February, before lining up at the Tour of the Basque Country.

Arrieta added that if all goes well, the Spaniard will also compete at Paris-Nice - the one-week stage race held in March which much of the peloton use as preparation for the one-day classics in April.

But after two years in the wilderness -- and having all his results from 2010 annulled by the UCI - Valverde is under no pressure to start winning again.

"Alejandro's main objective is simply to get back to competing," said Arrieta.

"His two years out hasn't changed anything about him. Cycling is his life and his passion and he's just happy to come back to the peloton."