Valverde's Vuelta off to solid start

Caisse d'Epargne captain says Basso is his biggest rival

Like most, Alejandro Valverde crashed in the closing kilometres of yesterday's wet Vuelta a España stage four to Liège, Belgium. Despite a minor injury yesterday, he is pleased with the opening days and looks towards the overall battle.

"I learned a lot from the mistakes I've made in the past and I know that to be absent-minded for only a few seconds can cost you a lot," said Valverde on Wednesday's rest day. "It is really important to be ahead in order to avoid crashes. I'm happy because I lost no time compared to my rivals."

Spain's Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was riding in the front half of the group when the crash occurred at 2.5 kilometres to race. He managed to avoid the initial crash, but then a rider hit him from behind.

"I took a strong blow on my backside. It is bothering me a little bit but fortunately it is nothing serious."

Valverde has so far defended his strong, ninth place prologue performance. He gained 18 seconds on main rivals Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) after he avoided a split in the group on the first road stage. Despite the early advantage, Valverde remains cautious.

"Eighteen seconds can be important, but they will have no weight at the end of the race considering the hard stages still to come," he said. "But you never know, maybe they will play a role."

Valverde is tenth overall, sandwiched between Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). Basso and Valverde are both 18 seconds behind race leader, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank).

He said today that Italy's Basso has emerged as a marked man. "He looks really slim, very careful and completely concentrated on the race."

Valverde looks forward to the race re-starting in Spain tomorrow and this weekend's stages.

"The first important stage will be the time trial in Valencia, but I believe we will have to wait for the next day. The finish at the top of the Aitana will see real gaps emerge between the leaders."

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