Valverde stakes his claim for a podium spot

Alejandro Valverde, Movistar, Tour de France, cycling
Movistar captain Alejandro Valverde (AAP Images)

Alejandro Valverde insists he can upset the form book and defy the challenges of a time trial-heavy Tour de France to grab a coveted podium spot on this year's race.

If we lose time in the first time trial, it's clear we have to take it back somewhere.

With two long time trials on stages nine (41.5km) and 19 (53.5km), reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) will start as the big yellow jersey favourites tonight (AEST).

Movistar team leader Valverde, who only returned to competitive cycling in January following a doping ban, is not a renowned for his strength against the clock.

But the 32-year-old, returning to the race for the first time since 2008 when he won the second stage in Saint Brieuc, believes he can fight off a quality-packed field to fight for third spot in Paris on July 22.

"It's clear that with 100 km of time trials the race route isn't exactly in my favour," Valverde said Friday, a day before a 6.4km opening prologue opens the three week race.

"But the Tour de France is not two days, it's 21 and all the big contenders will be on the start line with more or less the same condition.

"Wiggins and Evans are the clear favourites, there's no doubt about that, but our team is in top condition and we intend to fight all the way for a podium spot.

"It's going to be a hard three weeks, and a lot of things can happen."

Valverde, whose only Grand Tour win is the 2009 Vuelta A Espana, might not be the only one secretly wishing for the many pitfalls on the race to boost his own bid.

Last year Wiggins crashed out on stage seven with a broken collarbone while in the past Evans' attempts to win the yellow jersey, eventually accomplished in 2011, have been regularly beset by injuries suffered on the race.

In such an eventuality, the race would open up for several riders who, like Valverde, are looking longingly at the podium including Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), the 2010 Vuelta a Espana champion, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), climbing specialist Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and former Tour de France runner-up Denis Menchov (Katusha).

Their best approach, at least in theory, would be trying to gain as much advantage over Wiggins and Evans on the mountain stage between the two time trials.

Valverde admitted it won't be plain sailing, but added: "There aren't many (three) summit finishes but there are a lot of tricky mountain stages, some finishing downhill and with many pitfalls.

"If we lose time in the first time trial, it's clear we have to take it back somewhere."

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A detailed look at the key mountain stages on the 2012 Tour de France:

Stage 7: Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles (199km)

La Planche des Belles Filles: 5.9km at 8.5 percent average (1035 metres)

Stage 8: Belfort to Porrentruy (154km)

Cote de Maison-Rouge: 7.9km at 5 percent (784 m)

Cote de Saignelegier: 7.8km at 6.1 percent (979 m)

Cote de Saulcy: 4.6km at 8.6 percent (931 m)

Cote de la Caquerelle: 4.3km at 7.6 percent (827 m)

Col de la Croix: 3.7km at 9.2 percent (779 m)

Stage 10: Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (194km)

Cote de Corlier: 6.4km at 5.5 percent (762 m)

Col du Grand Colombier: 17.4km at 7.1 percent (1501 m)

Stage 11: Albertville to La Toussuire (140km)

Col de la Madeleine: 25.3km at 6.2 percent (2000 m)

Col de la Croix-de-Fer: 22.4km at 6.9 percent (2067 m)

Col du Mollard: 5.7km at 6.8 percent (1638 m)

La Toussuire: 18km at 6.1 percent (1705 m)

Stage 12: St-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay (220km)

Col du Grand Cucheron: 12.5km at 6.5 percent (1188 m)

Col du Granier: 9.7km at 8.6 percent (1134 m)

Stage 14: Limoux to Foix (192km)

Col du Portel: 5.3km at 6.3 percent (601 m)

Port de Lers: 11.4km at 7 percent (1517 m)

Mur de Peguere: 9.4km at 7.9 percent (1375 m)

Stage 16: Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon (197km)

Col d'Aubisque: 16.4km at 7.1 percent (1709 m)

Col du Tourmalet: 19km at 7.4 percent (2115 m)

Col d'Aspin: 12.4km at 4.8 percent (1489 m)

Col de Peyresourde: 9.5km at 6.7 percent (1559 m)

Stage 17: Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes (144km)

Col de Mente: 9.3km at 9.1 percent (1349 m)

Col des Ares: 6km at 5.3 percent (797 m)

Port de Bales: 11.8km at 7.7 percent (1755 m)

Peyragudes (via Peyresourde): 15.4km at 5.1 percent (1603 m)

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