Tour de France: Pile-up sends race favourite Valverde crashing out
Wednesday 05 July 2006
There is a well-worn saying that it is always possible to lose the Tour in the first week but never to win it, and it came true once more yesterday on Stage Three to Valkenburg in the Netherlands when one of the leading contenders, Alejandro Valverde, broke his collarbone and left the race in an ambulance.
Riders are fresh out of the stalls, as it were, in the first week of the race and pile-ups in the final hour as they jostle for position at high speed are almost inevitable.
Accidents were waiting to happen on the approach to Valkenburg, with its narrow, twisting roads and around 200,000 spectators spilling on to the road.
The riders were crammed together on a road less than five metres wide some 15 kilometres from the finish when Valverde touched wheels and went flying over the handlebars.
"We'd even thought about a stage win today for Alejandro," Valverde's team manager, Eusebio Unzue, said. "As it is he's absolutely devastated."
Nicknamed "Bala Verde" [the Green Bullet], Valverde had been tipped by the seven-times Tour winner, Lance Armstrong, as "the future of cycling" after he was outgunned by the Spaniard in an Alpine stage finish last year.
The next two high points of Valverde's career both took place less than an hour's drive away from Valkenburg. In April he won the prestigious Fleche Wallonne one-day race in Huy, Belgium - the same town where today's stage starts - and followed that with an equally powerful victory in the nearby Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic: a rare deed known as "the Ardennes double".
One of the few favourites to avoid last week's mass exclusions following the anti-doping operations in Spain in May, Valverde fell foul of one of the Tour's more traditional perils.
He was not the only favourite to do so: 2004 Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden, whose team-mate Matthias Kessler shot off on a short, steep climb close to the finish for the stage win, also came a cropper in the same crash as Valverde.
The world champion Tom Boonen, who starts today's 207km leg from Huy to St Quentin in France in yellow after he finished in a small group close behind Kessler, was scathing about the dangerous conditions.
"The roads were so narrow it was impossible to manoeuvre. Every time you tried there was some old lady with a pram blocking you, or a kid running in the road," he said.
Despite his complaints, Boonen was content with his first lead in the Tour, not to mention taking over the green points jersey lead.
"My first big aim of the race was to wear the yellow jersey on home soil," said the 25-year-old, already an idol in Belgium after his spectacular victories in the Spring Classics races.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly
Latest in Sport
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...