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By Shane Stokes ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde's planned season debut in Sunday's opening leg...
By Shane Stokes
ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde's planned season debut in Sunday's opening leg of the Challenge Mallorca races, the Trofeo Mallorca, is uncertain due to a gastric virus afflicting the Spaniard.
The 26-year-old was ill on Friday and his participation on Sunday will depend on how he feels before then, with the rider and team to make a decision closer to the race. Sunday marks a year since the late Isaac Galvez opened the team's 2006 accounts with a sprint win, and so will be an emotional day for the Caisse dEpargne squad.
Directeur sportif Alfonso Galilea said late on Friday evening that they are hopeful he will be well enough to line out for the event. "It depends on how his health is," he told Cyclingnews. Normally, if Alejandro is okay, he should be on the start line of the first stage. Yesterday was a very bad day for him and today he is a little bit better, but that leaves just one day between now and Sunday. We must wait to see how things progress, but I think and I hope that he will be on the start line.
"Sunday will be a very special day for him and for the whole team because it is a year since the first victory of last season by Isaac Galvez here. He won the same stage so it will be about remembering the memory of Isaac on Sunday, remembering the image of him taking that win. I think Alejandro wants to dedicate this special day to him and take part."
Two and a half months have passed since the tragedy in Gent, and Galilea said it has been a tough time for the squad. "It was very hard for the whole team. I think that nobody thought that something like this could happen. It is very strange, and for it to happen on the track is even more peculiar. Normally the road is more dangerous, with a lot of people there; a sprint on a normal road stage it is more dangerous than a sprint on the track.
"But that is life. It is very, very strange. For the team it was very, very, very hard, but life continues and all we can do is to dedicate the victories this season of the team to Isaac and try to do as well as possible for him and to celebrate the memory of him."
Even if Valverde doesn't start on Sunday, the Majorcan races are unique in that they allow riders to pick and choose the stages they compete in, with only those who ride each day eligible for the overall classification. So he could still make his season debut in these races.
He had planned to ride the first, third and fourth stages, using those races as early-season tune-ups and also helping the Caisse d'Epargne riders going for the overall. Galilea outlined who they are likely to be.
"Some of the riders who are sick are those who would have done the whole five stages," he said. "But we expect that the guys for the overall will be the two Balearic riders, [Joan] Horrach and [Vicente] Reynes, plus Fran Perez and Luis Leon Sanchez. Normally, health permitting, these four guys should be the ones for the general classification.
The Franco-Spanish squad has been unlucky as regards illnesses, with Pablo Lastras, Joaquím Rodríguez and Xabier Zandio now suffering from flu and Valverde, Iván Gutiérrez and Alexeï Markov under the weather due to stomach problems. The teams other big star, Oscar Pereiro, has been affected by flu for much of the week but has improved noticeably in the past two days. He is a possible starter on Sunday, but is only scheduled to do that day of the Challenge Mallorca competition.
Caisse d'Epargne and other teams staying on the Spanish island had their training disrupted on Friday due to very heavy rainfall in the morning. This later cleared and the forecast for the first few days of the Challenge Mallorca races is, for now, good, with sun and mild temperatures predicted.
In related news, members of the team who were not affected by illness did physiological testing on Friday under the supervision of Dr. Jesús Hoyos and Alfredo Zúñiga. The previous day saw the squad do traditional pre-season photo sessions in their new team kit, which is a variation of last year's black and red colours.