By Gregor Brown
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is going into the 2018 Tour de France, starting on July 7, with the importance of the race on his mind, not a "special return" after breaking his leg on day one in 2017.
Valverde, 38-years-old, broke his leg in the opening time trial in Düsseldorf, Germany. However, he bounced back well in 2018 with the overall victory in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the Abu Dhabi Tour, the Volta a Catalunya and this month, the Route d'Occitanie.
"I'm going to the Tour in good condition, just like I wanted," Valverde said.
"Last year's crash shouldn't come across my mind in the early part of the Tour. It's not going to be special to return to the Tour because of the crash – it's special in itself to race there.
"I'm focused on what we want to do. I want to do well, should it be working for Nairo and Mikel or rather, if the race asks us to do so, taking on bigger responsibility and fulfilling the team's goals. I feel like my current form should be good to be up there with the top contenders."
Valverde needed immediate surgery. He did not race again for the rest of 2017 after crashing on July 1 in the Tour.
This year, despite his age, he has proven to be capable of leading Spain's super team. Team boss Eusebio Unzué selected him as one of the captions with Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana.
"The season has gone extremely well so far. Not only because of the results, but also considering where I come from, after such a serious crash last year," Valverde said.
"My legs felt incredibly well already since Mallorca, and victories did not take long to start coming. I've got already 11 this year, I've won all four stage races I've been at this season – one could say this is almost impossible to match."
Valverde has raced 22 Grand Tours, winning the Vuelta a España in 2009 and placing third in the Giro d'Italia in 2016. In the Tour in 2015, he placed third behind winner Chris Froome (Sky) and team-mate Quintana.
"It was incredible," Valverde said of his first Tour in 2005. "The amount of media present, the enormous crowds, everything around this race – it really caught my attention, it was spectacular.
"I like this year's parcours. I think it's perfect for the team we'll be bringing to the race. It hasn't got much TT terrain, and the only individual time trial is quite hilly.
"Until the pavé stage, the Tour will be a race of attrition. You'll have to always keep the front, be lucky, not crash - and then, as we head into the mountains, there's basically everything you could ask for."
Even without thinking much about last year, Valverde is grateful to race another Tour with his sights on the mountains after the first nine days.
"You go through happiness, sadness... but my worst moment was last year's crash, barely six kilometres after taking the start into a Tour where I was feeling great," he said.
"It's over now – everyone has seen I'm doing great, and I'm happy to be back."
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