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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Guzmán backs-down after UCI letter, race gets underway on Wednesday
Tour of Murcia Director Paco Guzmán has back-tracked on a statement he made last month in which he said Italian teams would be banned from the five-day race. The initial statement came in reaction the ban currently in force against Murcian local Alejandro Valverde racing in Italy.
Guzmán had told Spanish newspaper AS in early February, "There will be no Italian teams participating due to the fact that they aren't letting Valverde race in that country. Alejandro is Murcia's best rider and I don't want them in our race."
But on Wednesday, Guzmán told AS that he had been wrong to make what he called a "colloquial statement", and that there was no ban on Italian teams taking part in the event. Instead, he said, the Italian teams had chosen not to participate, and further deflected any anti-Italian sentiment by referring to the race's Trophy Marco Pantani – a prize awarded for the first rider to crest the Alto de Collado Bermejo on stage three of the event.
Guzmán's back-flip comes after International Cycling Union (UCI) President Pat McQuaid issued a letter to the Spaniard on Tuesday asking him to explain the basis for his earlier statements.
"As a result of what I read in the press this week, I wrote a letter to [Guzmán] outlining [the UCI's] opinion of his approach," McQuaid told Cyclingnews on Wednesday.
The letter, extracts of which were published by Italian media sources on Tuesday, contends that Guzmán's statements about disciplinary proceedings against any rider were inappropriate. It asked him to issue a retraction of any decisions that might have discriminated against Italian teams.
While McQuaid acknowledged that the UCI didn't have evidence of any specific cases of teams being denied entry to the race, he appeared satisfied with reports of Guzmán's retreat. "I've been told this morning that in the Spanish press he's apologised and is saying 'he didn't do this and 'he didn't to that'," he said.
With the conflict apparently settled, the Tour of Murcia will get underway in San Pedro del Pinatar on Wednesday. Ironically, neither the rider at the centre of Guzmán's earlier statements, Alejandro Valverde, nor his Caisse d'Epargne team will participate in the event.
Defending Champion, Denis Menchov, has returned to lead his Rabobank squad. The Dutch outfit forms one of seven ProTour teams taking part in the event (Rabobank, RadioShack, Sky, HTC-Columbia, Astana, Milram and Garmin-Transitions).