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What, apart from the performance of the Illes Balears team, has not been a great Tour for the Spanish so far threatened to take a very bad turn last night when Spanish radio station Cadena Ser announced that Courchevel stage winner Alejandro Valverde would not be starting today's stage to Montpellier because of knee trouble. However, Balears team manager Eusebio Unzue has denied the news, saying that fifth-placed overall and best young rider Valverde will start today but might pull out of the race if the tendonitis affecting his left knee does not clear up.
"There is no question of us taking a risk," Unzue told AS. "The stage today is flat but hardly easy, as instead of riding at 50 kilometres an hour it will probably go off at 70. If Alejandro's problems return, if the pain persists during the race, then Alejandro will abandon today. I am not optimistic."
Valverde first noticed a problem in his knee on the stage to Courchevel, where he took what is so far Spain's only stage win of the race. However, he believes the knee problem stems back to a knock he received during the stage four team time trial.
"It will be a shame if he has to abandon, but he will have to wait for another chance. But we've still got Paco Mancebo, who is not a small hope, and we will see how things are for us in the Pyrenees," Unzue concluded.
On yesterday's stage to Digne, Valverde visited the Tour doctor's car early in the stage for the second day in a row to receive treatment for inflammation in his knee. Illes Balears hope, however, that the high temperatures that are predicted for the race in the coming days will work to Valverde's advantage after he has struggled in cooler conditions in recent days.
Whatever happens, Valverde believes that he has shown that he is a rider well suited to competing for the top prize at the Tour in future seasons. "I've confirmed myself as a Tour man, because there aren't any mountains higher than those in the Alps, where I won one day and then finished within the leaders' group of 15 the other day," said Valverde.
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