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The former world champion hit a small hole on the road on the descent off the Puerto el Collao late in Friday’s stage on a sweeping corner. The Movistar captain hit the brakes to try to regain control as his front wheel went off its line, and slid out on the asphalt before flying into a ravine.
Valverde was examined by race medical staff, and then at a hospital where subsequent examination and diagnostic radiology showed Valverde suffered a right clavicle fracture.
“We are saddened by the news that ‘Bala’ will not continue in the race,” said Movistar teammate Miguel Ángel López. “The team loses a lot. ‘Bala’ is a super rider who gives us a lot of tranquility and security. He is a key man on a stage like today, and with him, we could have always looked forward.”
Luckily, Valverde did not strike a nearby guardrail or fall deeper into the ravine, but the damage was done.
In what was his 30th career grand tour start, Valverde will not be making it to the finish line in Galicia on September 5.
His longtime teammate and friend José Joaquín Rojas helped Valverde scramble back onto the road. Crumpled in pain, Valverde bravely fought on. A few moments later it crackled over race radio: Valverde abandons.
Valverde stepped off in tears for just the fifth time in 30 grand tour starts, injury preventing him from going further. The last Vuelta he abandoned was the first he started, in 2002.
The crash came Friday just as Valverde and Movistar were planning to attack. The team had Carlos Verona, who ended up second on the stage, up the road and ready to pile on.
Instead, once news of Valverde’s crash came over the radio, Verona had to try to race to win the stage.
“There’s a mix of resignation and satisfaction,” Verona said. “Patxi [Vila, sport director] was telling me that Alejandro was going to attack, and then, all of a sudden, there was silence on the radio. I didn’t understand what was happening. And then they told Alejandro had crashed.”
The 70kg Verona had no chance against the featherweight Michael Storer, who won the stage out of the group, with Verona taking second place.
In July, Valverde confirmed he wanted to race in 2022, but hinted that this year’s Tour de France would be his last.
Wildly popular among Spanish fans, Valverde remains a lightning rod of criticism for some who will never forgive him for his silence over his role in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.
Escaping serious injury Valverde, at least the door is open to keep racing one more season if he wants to. The door is always open at Movistar, where he’s been a franchise rider for nearly two decades.
The previous time Alejandro Valverde abandoned La Vuelta:
Oscar Freire was World Champion
Paolo Savoldelli was the winner of Il Giro
Laurent Jalabert took polka dot in Le Tour
Johan Museeuw won his final Monument
— CafeRoubaix (@CafeRoubaix) August 20, 2021
Without Valverde, Movistar loses the last vestige of its past. Valverde was the last Movistar rider to hit a grand tour podium, with second at the 2019 Vuelta.
Now the team pedals into the future with Enric Mas and López, the Colombian climber who recently signed a contract extension.
“It’s a real shame,” López said. “I didn’t see how he fell, because I was just a bit behind, but it came after he and Rojas had attacked just as we had planned.”
“Later, as I passed the site of the crash, there was no one on the ground,” he said. “I only heard a bit later and it really made me sad. He never stops to amaze me. He always kept us at the front, he evokes a lot of confidence, and he has so much experience. We are really saddened by his departure.”
There was still no reaction out of Valverde, but it’s very likely he is already plotting his comeback.
There’s no way he will let this be his final moment as a pro racer.