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It may be nine months before the start of the 2006 Tour de France in Strasbourg, but Alejandro Valverde and his Illes Balears (soon-to-be Caisse d'Epargne) team are leaving nothing to chance as the Spaniard aims to succeed Lance Armstrong in the yellow jersey.
A Tour summit-winner this year at Courchevel, where he edged out Armstrong, Valverde and other key members of his team are travelling to Italy this week to consult with frame-builder Pinarello on time trial set-ups. The 25-year-old Spaniard will spend Thursday being biomechanically assessed at Pinarello's headquarters in Treviso with a view to improving his time trialling position next season.
"The tests will last four or five hours and will take place both indoors and outdoors," team manager Eusebio Unzue told AS. "Everything will be focused on the optimisation of his position while time trialling. We will get some measurements from the procedure and will then undertake more tests in Spain."
Valverde revealed that he has never previously done any specific work on time trialling. "This year I noticed that I did improve and I am sure that experience will enable me to make another step forwards in 2006," he said. "But we want to take advantage of all possible opportunities.
"Without Armstrong in the race, the rest of riders won't gain so much on me, but I have to keep improving in this discipline," Valverde explained. In his only time trial at this year's Tour before his retirement, which was over just 19km, Valverde lost 1-31 to Alexandre Vinokourov, 1-16 to Jan Ullrich and around a minute to both Yaroslav Popovych and Ivan Basso. The only two likely contenders he gained time on were compatriots Paco Mancebo and Iban Mayo.
As well as the time trial tweaks, Valverde will also be changing the emphasis of his racing programme. "He will start strongly between Paris-Nice and the spring Classics, and then do so again for the Tour," said Unzue, who admitted he did not expect Valverde to ride the Valverde, and certainly not to win.
In addition to Valverde, new Illes Balears signing Oscar Pereiro will be travelling to Italy, as are Russian Vladimir Karpets and world time trial championship runner-up Ivan Gutierrez.
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