At 15.15 today, Alejandro Valverde finally admitted defeat, giving in to the pain of a bad left knee and quitting the Tour de France. It was rumoured before the stage that the white jersey would not start, but together with team management the Illes Balears rider decided to continue for as long as was possible. He had a highly successful Tour debut so far; a stage win on the first big mountain stage of the race, the white jersey of best young rider and a fine fifth place overall. But ever since that win in Courchevel he had been troubled by a knee injury, most probably as the result of banging the joint during the team time trial several days earlier.
Today the pain became too much, causing the rider Lance Armstrong said ‘could be the future of cycling' to retire from the race. Third and fourth in the Vuelta a España, Valverde will bounce back from this and could well challenge for the win in 2006. Before then, though, the Illes Balears team will do what they can to support Paco Mancebo's bid for a podium place. He starts tomorrow in seventh place overall, 4 minutes off the race lead, and will be aiming for a big ride in the Pyrenees.