Valverde’s dream comeback grinds to halt in Catalunya

Spaniard abandons following crash in Tuesday's second stage in Catalunya

Alejandro Valverde’s dream comeback hit the skids Wednesday at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya when the Movistar captain was forced to abandon the weeklong race in the wake of his crash in Tuesday’s stage.

Valverde hit the deck in a feedzone mishap in Tuesday’s second stage and did not start Wednesday’s decisive climbing stage due to lingering pain. He lost more than two minutes Tuesday and all options to aim for the overall title.

“There was a water bottle on the road and it got caught in my front wheel and I crashed on my right side onto the curb,” Valverde explained. “I got straight back on my feet, but I was feeling dizzy and it was hard to get back up to race speed.”

Movistar tried in vain to bridge their captain back to the front group, where the peloton was powering near a late-stage, first-category climb.

To add insult to injury, the race jury later penalized Valverde 20 seconds for following too close to the team cars while trying desperately to regain contact with the front group.

It remains to be seen how serious Valverde’s injuries are and whether they will impede his highly anticipated return to the Ardennes classics.

A two-time winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Valverde said he wants to battle the likes of Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) across the hilly classics with hopes of returning to the podium.

“Last year, Gilbert was a monster, we’ll see this year,” Valverde told the Spanish news service EFE. “Maybe he’s planning to start things a little more tranquil this year. I see him calmer because this time last year he had already won a lot of races. It will be a beautiful duel.”

Valverde’s bad luck at Catalunya puts the brakes on what’s been a phenomenal return to competition following his two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto blood doping scandal.

Since returning in January, Valverde won a stage in his first race at the Tour Down Under and won a stage and the overall at the Ruta del Sol in February.

Earlier this month, Valverde won a stage, the points jersey and finished third overall at Paris-Nice.

Valverde was not planning on racing the Vuelta al País Vasco in early April, but may adjust his racing schedule due to missing out on the remainder of the week-long Catalunya tour.