By Nigel Wynn
Alejandro Valverde will make his racing return at the Tour Down Under later this month after serving a two-year suspension for his links to the Operacion Puerto organised doping investigation.
The Spanish pro heads Movistar's seven-man line-up for the 2012 WorldTour opener, which starts in Adelaide, South Australia, on January 17.
Valverde - now 31 - last raced at the Tour of Romandie in 2010. Valverde won the Vuelta a Espana overall in 2009, all also has wins at Tour de France, La Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Criterium du Dauphine and stage wins at the Tour de France, Paris-Nice.
All of Valverde's results from 2010 were stripped from his palmares after his suspension was back-dated to January 1 2010.
Valverde's name was linked to the 2006 Operacion Puertio anti-doping investigation in Spain centred around the Madrid clinic of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. Valverde was subsequently banned from competing in Italy by the Italian Olympic Committee after it claimed to match samples taken from the 2008 Tour de France with a blood bag seized during the Operacion Puerto investigation.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport imposed a two-year, worldwide ban on Valverde in May 2010, back-dated to January 1.
In November, the UCI allegedly blocked Valverde from appearing at Movistar's 2012 team presentation as he was still serving his suspension.
According to reports in the Spanish media, Valverde has continued to train heavily and will start the 2012 season in good shape.
"I believe Valverde is one of the favourites for this year's race," said Tour Down Under race diretor Mike Turtur. "The experience he had here when he last raced in 2010, will have him well placed to be a big threat to take out the overall win."
The six-day Tour Down Under starts on January 17 and runs until January 22 2012.
Tour Down Under 2012: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
Valverde not permitted at Movistar presentation
3 June 2010: Valverde defiant over ban: "I will be back"
16 March 2010: Valverde faces worldwide ban after losing appeal against Italian suspension
19 June 2009: Valverde appeals against Italian ban
11 May 2009: Valverde banned from racing in Italy for two years
Alejandro Valverde: Rider Profile
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