Valverde bounces back to second place on Thursday
Despite a crash on Wednesday, Spain's Alejandro Valverde is back in the race, finishing second place in the first mountain stage.11 July 2008
MADRID - Spain's Alejandro Valverde bounced back in the Tour de France Thursday, finishing the first mountain stage in second place the day after a crash had threatened to jeopardise his campaign.
The Spanish Caisse D'Epargne rider completed the 196-kilometer Aigurande to Super-Besse sixth stage just behind Italy's Riccardo Riccò, of the Saunier-Duval team.
While he failed to take the glory of a second stage victory in a week in this year's Tour, Valverde nonetheless made his fall the previous day, which saw him require a hospital check-up after completing the stage, appear nothing more than a blip.
However, the fact he was covered in bandages at the start line did not bode well for his chances.
While Thursday's stage was hardly a massive climb it did have four categorised slopes, and presented an opportunity for those hoping to stay in contention in the Pyrenees and Alps in the coming fortnight to state their case.
Valverde did exactly that, and his team worked hard to reel in a group of breakaway riders after the third climb.
With that mission accomplished, Valverde stayed with the frontrunners before Riccò won the final sprint for the line. Last year's runner-up Cadel Evans came in third, while Frank Shleck finished fourth, with Kim Kirchen on his wheel.
Luxembourg's Kirchen now leads the overall standings, with Evans of Australia six seconds behind, and Germany's Stefan Schumacher in third, 16 seconds back.
Valverde, who is trailing Kirchen by one minute 12 seconds, is in eighth place overall.
Touted by many as a favorite in this year's race, the biggest challenges are yet to come for the 28-year-old Murcian, who has won plenty of one-day races in his career but as yet no long-distance hill-climbing events. Moreover, it is yet to be seen whether his falls on Wednesday will affect his long-term performance.
"The level of the injuries isn't severe so it should be no problem but he does have grazes on his arms and wasn't able to rest too well last night," Valverde's team manager, Eusebio Unzúe, said Thursday morning.
"He's in pain but that is typical in the days following a fall. It's a normal situation after a crash and hopefully it's not too serious. Within the next two or three days when the race arrives in the Pyrenees, we hope he has fully recovered."
Today's seventh stage is a 159km mountain route between Brioude and Aurillac.
[El Pais / G. Hedgecoe / Expatica]