Four-time Tour de France stage winner Alejandro Valverde will not get his chance to win a fifth stage during this year’s race, which kicked off Saturday in Dusseldorf, Germany.
The 37-year-old Movistar rider, who finished in the top 10 overall in the last four iterations of the annual race, suffered a nasty crash under slick conditions during the Stage 1 time trial that left him with a broken knee cap and ankle, according to a team statement. The team also said the Spanish rider suffered “a deep cut” in his shin.
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Valverde is set to undergo surgery Saturday evening at University Hospital in Düsseldorf, but his chances of returning to competitive cycling this season are slim.
“The recovery time expected by the Movistar Team doctors makes it unlikely for the Spaniard to return to racing during the current season,” the team said.
The loss of Valverde so early in the race isn’t just a blow for the rider himself but for the team and especially Nairo Quintana, for whom Valverde was expected to act as lead domestique.
“It’s really difficult for all of us,” Quintana said after the stage, in which he finished 48 seconds behind stage winner Geraint Thomas of Team Sky. “[Valverde’s] a very important human being and a great teammate. … It’s awful to see his race ending that way, so early.”
Valverde wasn’t the only cyclist whose race ended early due to a terrible crash. Several riders suffered crashes on the slick city streets, including Ion Izagirre of Bahrain Merida, who skidded out in the same corner as Valverde and also had to abandon the race, according to Cycling News.
“It was a very hard hit into the fence,” Team Bahrain-Merida wrote on in a statement posted to the team’s website late Saturday. “Izagirre was then immediately transported to the hospital by an ambulance in company with the team doctor Luca Pollastri.
“The first diagnosis said that Ion Izagirre has an unstable lumbar fracture and he needs a surgical treatment. We will come with further information in the next days,” the statement added. “We are deeply sad that Ion will not continue this year’s Tour de France, where he was meant to be the team leader after the strong performance this season.”
His exit all but puts an end to his team’s general classification ambitions, as he was the team’s lead rider.
The Tour de France continues Sunday when Stage 2 departs from Düsseldorf and travels more than 200 kilometers to Liege, Belgium.