Six days before the 101st edition of the Tour de France reaches its last finish line in Paris’s Champs-Élysées, Alejandro Valverde and Eusebio Unzué spoke to the media during the second rest day. The telephone squad’s GC leader, second in a tight overall after successive climbs in the Vosges and the Alps, hopes to ammass the biggest gap possible in the Pyrenees in order to keep his podium place in a long time trial to Périgueux, where he will wear the national bands as Spanish champion for the very first time. Here follow the words by the Spaniard, as well as the Blues’ general manager Eusebio Unzué, at Le Dôme’s press room:
Alejandro Valverde: “I’m the place I more or less expected to be at this point of the race. It’s been quite a peculiar Tour, with the abandons of Froome and Alberto. Still, Nibali has shown to be super strong. I’m in second position and I’m happy to be in that place. There’s still a long way to go, with three demanding stages in the Pyrenees, and after such a Tour, so demanding, anything could happen: we could gain time, lose more… who knows. It’s obvious that the more we get from these stages, the better, so we can tackle the time trial with a good chance. We must keep looking forward, never surrender and say ‘it’s enough with just second place’. You have to aspire to something else – but for the time being, we’re happy with it.
“Taking advantage from a bad day of Nibali? Up to date, he’s proven to be the strongest rider in this Tour. We have done two weeks of racing, the Pyrenees are coming into the last one and we’re humans – everyone can have a bad day. Should he suffer and we find good legs, we’ll try to profit from it, but looking at how things have stood, he’s looking really strong, superior to us. Still, we will never give up. Regarding these three days, we’ll try to fight and take as much time as possible, in wherever we can, but we don’t know where we will attempt to do it. Any strategy, we keep it to ourselves. Any of the three can be dangerous: tomorrow’s is the one after the rest day and is rather long; the one on Wednesday, finishing atop Saint-Lary, is really stressful, short, just 125km, with four tough climbs and it’s going to be a hard one; and the third, with Tourmalet and Hautacam, is also demanding, even more after the two previous that and everything we’ve gone through in this Tour – it will be as much difficult as the other ones. I don’t know which one will be more crucial.
“My biggest rival for the podium? It if comes down only to the final time trial, I’d say Van Garderen is the most threatening. Péraud is also a good time triallist. Pinot and Bardet? They’re good, but I don’t think they’re superior to me in a TT, considering previous results. Besides, it’s a special time trial; we will see how the form of everyone unfolds after these four days, because it’s not flat at all, but long and demanding. For me, all four are dangerous, because they’re close enough to get into the podium with a great TT. At the moment, we just think about the Pyrenees.”
Eusebio Unzué: “I feel like the team is doing well at the moment. I’m sure that these long-awaited rest day must have done well on them, as well as with the other teams. We’re probably witnessing the fastest Tour in recent years, and above all, the most intense racing. You all have seen only two breakaways have made it all the way to the finish, and by just few seconds – every stage was fought, there was no bargaining and the legs have really felt it. As Alejandro said before, in the Pyrenees we have had stages where everything could happen in previous editions – why shouldn’t we have one like that this year? Also, the team-mates of every GC contender, some defending and some attacking, can play an important role and become the key to the final outcome. From our side, we can say our team is feeling well, and because of that, Alejandro will be well surrounded in the upcoming few days.”