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Axel Merckx and his wife Jodie have a new addition to their family. Athina-Grace was born in Monaco on Wednesday morning, and mother and baby are reported to be doing well. The Merckxs already have one daughter, three-year-old Axana. Merckx flew from the south of France to Nantes on Wednesday evening to join his Davitamon-Lotto team-mates for the start of the Tour de France.
- Damiano Cunego's absence from the Tour may have deprived the race of one very notable debutant, but another emerging name is still set to start on Saturday, in the shape of Illes Balears' Alejandro Valverde. The 25-year-old Spaniard is trying to play down expectations prior to the race, telling Spanish daily AS today that his goal is simply to help team leader Paco Mancebo in whatever way he can and perhaps take a stage win along the way.
"Paco has ridden several Tours, he knows how to ride the race, he knows the countryside, the mountains and I believe he's got an opportunity to get himself into the fight for the podium and perhaps even more than that," said Valverde.
Valverde has looked over most of the Tour's mountain stages and said he likes what he's seen. "The passes are very long, but without excessive gradients, which is makes them slightly different to the passes in Spain," he explained. Valverde admitted to being more nervous prior to the Tour than he has been before any other race, but added that "I am with a team with a great deal of experience and knowledge of what the Tour is all about, and I'm sure that is going to help me a lot."
- Few teams are going to receive as much attention during the opening days of the Tour as Bouygues Telecom, who are based in the Vende region hosting the race over its first weekend. And few riders are going to get as much attention as the new darling of the French fans, Bouygues' Thomas Voeckler, who wore the yellow jersey for 10 days last year.
Voeckler, who lost his French title last weekend, admits that his form is not as good this year as it was at the same time last. But he is still aiming to make an impression, especially during the first week when he hopes that the yellow jersey might be temporarily up for grabs. "It would need a leader such as Lance Armstrong to give an indication that he does not want to defend the jersey, and if the weather is bad, then so much the better," Voeckler told L'Equipe. "But if you think that Armstrong takes, on average, four stages each year, then that leaves 16 for the other 180 to fight for. It's not much."
Voeckler confessed that he surprised himself last year with his form in the high mountains, but, a bit like Alejandro Valverde, is trying to play down excessive expectations. "The truth is that I don't have the engine to compete overall. I have to be realistic, I will never win the Tour de France. But you can still have a good career without winning it. But I'm 26 now, and if I was going to win it you would already have seen signs of that potential," he said.
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