Lotto Soudal: Rafael Valls looks forward to Tour Down Under after a season full of injuries

Last week, seven Lotto Soudal riders travelled to Australia to participate in the Tour Down Under (17 – 22 January) next week. That’s the first WorldTour race of the new season. Next Sunday Sander Armée, Lars Bak, Sean De Bie, Thomas De Gendt, Adam Hansen, neo-pro James Shaw and Rafael Valls will ride the People’s Choice Classic in Adelaide, the criterium that is traditionally organized two days before the Tour Down Under. Once the Tour Down Under is finished, the team will stay in Australia for one more week. Lotto Soudal will take part in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday 29 January. That one-day race is part of the WorldTour as of this year.

The Tour Down Under takes place in the south of Australia, in and around Adelaide. This six-day stage race starts next Tuesday with a stage that is likely to end with a sprint. A day later the finale is tougher, with a hill finish. During the third stage the riders stay close to the coastline. On the way to Victor Harbor the wind could cause some spectacle. On the fourth day, the race moves further away from the coast again. The penultimate stage takes the riders up to Willunga Hill. In the last 35 kilometres this hill needs to be climbed twice. The Tour Down Under comes to an end on Sunday with a criterium in Adelaide. The riders need to cover twenty laps of 4.5 kilometres, which means it’s going to be a fast race with almost no chance for riders to escape the sprint.

Rafael Valls is the GC rider for Lotto Soudal next week. Last year he finished eighth overall, which was a great start of his first season on the team. Unfortunately, the Spanish rider had a lot of bad luck further down the year. Injuries forced him to put a stop to his season already in summer. After six months without competition, Valls is aiming for another top ten place at Tour Down Under.

Rafael Valls: “I’m looking forward to starting a new season after all the problems I had last year. I got ill in the spring and in the run-up to the National Championships in June I hurt my shoulder. The Tour de Pologne in July was my first race after that injury. I crashed in Pologne and incurred a pelvis injury. One and a half months later I underwent a shoulder operation, so I could prepare for the next season without any problems. It were three painful months, recovering from the pelvic injury and the shoulder surgery. I slowly resumed trainings in the beginning of October starting with fitness, walks in the mountains and riding on the rollers.”

After three months of training I really want to compete again. I feel completely recovered, but I’m curious to see how I will feel in a race. Mentally all is well, that’s a fact. During my rehabilitation I was very motivated to train. I want to race again. The Tour Down Under is my first goal of the season. Just like last year, I want to conquer a place on top ten of GC. Simon Gerrans is the big favourite. Richie Porte and Esteban Chaves are only two of my other opponents. The stage to Willunga Hill on Saturday will be the most important one for GC. It’s difficult to gain time on other stages. You do need to be attentive on the other days though. There could be echelons on the way to Victor Harbor for example. Anyway, I hope it will be a race without any problems.”

There is a time difference of nine and a half hours between Belgium and the Australian region where the Tour Down Under is being held. The finish of the stages is expected between 5:00 and 6:00 am CET each day.

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Lars Bak, Sean De Bie, Thomas De Gendt, Adam Hansen, James Shaw and Rafael Valls.


Stage 1 Tuesday 17 January: Unley – Lyndoch (145 km)

Stage 2 Wednesday 18 January: Stirling – Paracombe (148.5 km)

Stage 3 Thursday 19 January: Glenelg – Victor Harbor (144 km)

Stage 4 Friday 20 January: Norwood – Campbelltown (149.5 km)

Stage 5 Saturday 21 January: McLaren Vale – Willunga Hill (151.5 km)

Stage 6 Sunday 22 January: Adelaide – Adelaide (90 km)


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