DUSSELDORF, Germany (VN) — The Spanish Armada took on some water in the opening day of the 2017 Tour de France. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) both crashed out following heavy crashes in the rain-marred opening-day time trial won by Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas.
The Tour delivered a cruel blow to the Spanish tandem. The Movistar veteran crashed on a wet left-hander and unofficial reports suggested a fractured kneecap, while Izagirre’s debut as a GC captain ended prematurely
“It’s a real pity for Alejandro,” said rival and compatriot Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). “You spend six months training for the Tour, and in the first corner, you go home.”
Rain turned the urban streets of Düsseldorf into a skating rink. Several riders crashed in the pressure-packed opening stage, including Rick Zabel (Katusha), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) and three members of LottoNL-Jumbo.
None were worse off than Valverde, who came in too hot into the lefthander after coming down a bridge crossing the Rhine. It appeared he braked as he tried to control his speed, and his rear wheel slipped out. Valverde slammed down on his left side, and he rammed heavily into roadside barriers. Clearly injured, the 37-year-old was unable to remount his bicycle, and was transferred to a local hospital for observations.
Movistar confirmed Valverde suffered a fractured knee cap, meaning he could miss the Vuelta a Espana as well.
“When Alejandro couldn’t get back on his bike, we knew right away it was serious,” said Movistar sport director Jose Vicente García. “It’s a tough loss for the team, because we know that Alejandro would be there in the mountains. He was ready to race, and he was full of motivation to help Nairo.”
García said Valverde was bleeding from cuts to his tibia and also suffered heavy blows to his side, but he still waiting an official prognosis.
Valverde’s untimely departure is a major setback for his Movistar team and its quest to win the Tour. Valverde was third overall two years ago, and was expected to be a key helper for captain Nairo Quintana. On paper, this year’s atypical course favored Valverde, and many considered him an outsider for the final podium in Paris.
“It’s very sad for the team, and it’s a real shame for the race,” Quintana said. “Alejandro brings a lot of tranquility to the team, and he could have done something big in this Tour. Everything changes now. We have to adapt our strategy after losing someone as important as Alejandro. He was one of the most important pieces that we had on the team.”
After watching Valverde hit the deck, Quintana said he raced more cautiously. As a result, he crossed the line 48 seconds slower than winner Geraint Thomas, and 36 seconds slower than archrival Chris Froome (both Sky).
“Froome took some important gains today on everyone,” Quintana said. “Looking at what happened with Alejandro, we decided to take our foot off the gas a little bit, and finish the race the best way possible, and limit our losses.”