VITTEL, France (VN) — Team Movistar’s two-pronged plan to attack Sky’s Chris Froome “vanished” as quickly as the 2017 Tour de France began.
Alejandro Valverde‘s abandon due to a crash in the rain-soaked opening time trial left the team without its super-helper and B-plan, and put the chances of a Nairo Quintana win in doubt.
“For sure,” team boss Eusebio Unzué said when asked if it become hard without the Spaniard.
“Before we had much tranquillity knowing we’d have Valverde for the selective moments of the race. He was always there together with Nairo. He was part of our race strategy, but it’s all vanished now.”
During the wet start in Düsseldorf on Saturday, Valverde slid though a left-hander and banged his knee on the curb and barriers. He abandoned immediately. At the local hospital, he underwent a successful kneecap operation.
The crash could be felt around the peloton. Rival team Sky said it felt sorry for Valverde, who was an important component of Quintana’s quest to become the first Colombian to win the Tour de France.
Valverde was going so well this season that some said the 37-year-old could win the Tour himself after placing third in 2015 behind winner Froome and teammate Quintana.
“Ahhhh,” Unzué said with a smile and shaking his head. “Having seen how he went all year… And also before he crashed… He was riding with a time to be in the first 10 of the time trial.
“The whole year he was consistent and at a high level, we probably never had seen such a level from him. Also the effectiveness, because where he raced, he almost always won or was high up. But this is the reality and we must live with it.”
Valverde won the Ruta del Sol, the Volta a Catalunya, the Volta a Catalunya and the País Vasco stage races. And for the fourth time, he took home the Liège-Bastogne-Liège trophy.
Quintana, had been trying for the last three years to beat Froome at the Tour. He placed second in 2013 and 2015, and last year, off his best, he struggled to place third.
He has other men to rely on, but none as effective as Valverde: Jesús Herrada, Jonathan Castroviejo, Andrey Amador, and Carlos Betancur.
“It’s going to be hard to manage the absence of Valverde, but we have to face the reality and race with whom we have here. The other eight are well. We are going to survive these days and wait for the difficult days.”
Already in stage five to La Planche des Belles Filles we could see the new working order in Movistar.
“It depends on the stage and the moments who’ll work with Quintana. Amador, Betencur, Herrada and Castroveijo will be called up depending on the moment.”
Valverde, 37, already began his therapy. And though some his age might consider calling it quits, he appears to be aiming for a return.
“It could be this year, or next,” Unzué added. “He’ll always have a contract with us.”