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Tour de France

Andrew Hood’s Tour de France Notebook, Stage 5

Valverde scare: It looked innocuous on the medical report, just cuts and scrapes, but Alejandro Valverde’s Tour de France was nearly short-circuited Wednesday in a pileup. Valverde, 28, flipped over his handlebars and landed on the same collarbone he broke in the 2006 Tour when his front tire slipped on a small, cat-eye road reflector. It was too close for comfort for the stage-1 winner.

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By Andrew Hood

Valverde scare: It looked innocuous on the medical report, just cuts and scrapes, but Alejandro Valverde’s Tour de France was nearly short-circuited Wednesday in a pileup.

Valverde, 28, flipped over his handlebars and landed on the same collarbone he broke in the 2006 Tour when his front tire slipped on a small, cat-eye road reflector. It was too close for comfort for the stage-1 winner.

Explained Valverde: “Something like fifteen kilometers were left to the feeding zone. At that time we were riding very fast, at about 55 kph, when I rode upon one of those cloves that are sometimes in the middle of the road. That unbalanced me and I fell on my right side. After I saw the race doctor I came back in the bunch after I chased during about ten kilometers, but without any problem.

“My right collarbone, knee and calf hit the ground, but as for now it is not hurting. The only thing is that my right side is completely scratched and it looks like if I had been fighting with a lion! It was a big scare. I’m happy that I was able to finish the stage today. I really want to thank my teammates who protected me.”

Valverde, 17th at 1:27 back, is poised to make another charge for the yellow jersey in Thursday’s summit finish to Super-Besse, but the Tour’s first summit finish could turn into a race for survival.

“Tomorrow’s stage should be good for me, but now I just want to make sure I don’t lose any time,” he said.

Valverde has only finished one Tour in three starts. In his debut in 2005, he won a mountaintop stage at Courchevel, but later abandoned with knee pain. He crashed out in the first week in 2006 with a broken clavicle. Last year, he made it to Paris for the first time, finishing seventh overall.

Adios, Soler: It was too bad to see Mauricio Soler pull out Wednesday. An opening-day crash spelled doom for the 25-year-old Colombian condor, who was the sensation of last year’s Tour, winning a stage over the Galibier and winning the best climber’s jersey.

Instead of chasing the polka-dot jersey, Soler abandoned his second straight grand tour this year Wednesday after a fracture in his right wrist proved too painful. A scan Monday night in Nantes confirmed a fracture that made it nearly impossible for Soler to brake.

He tried to race Wednesday, but even fell on the rollout between the sign-in and the race start because he couldn’t properly stop. Twelve kilometers into the stage, the Colombian sensation abandoned the Tour. It’s been a very unlucky year for the Colombian climber, who left the Giro d’Italia in the same way.

“In agreement with Mauricio, we decided to wait two days after the crash to see if things improved, but we’ve had to accept that it is impossible for Soler to carry on in the Tour de France,” Barloworld team manager Claudio Corti said. “Mauricio’s had a lot of bad luck this year. Unfortunately, his crashes in both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France have seriously affected a year of hard work and that’s sad for Mauricio and everyone in the Barloworld team.”

Soler will travel to the team’s Italian base in Brescia to recover. Unfortunately, the team isn’t going to the Vuelta a España, so Soler could see some action later this season.