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Valverde pulls plug on Flanders debut

Alejandro Valverde’s high-profile assault on the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) won’t happen next month. The Movistar rider pulled the plug on a planned charge across the pavé in favor of altitude training.

Looking to hone his form ahead of his Giro d’Italia debut and perhaps avoid taking risks on the cobblestones, Valverde modified his racing schedule, swapping out his highly anticipated debut in the northern classics for a stint on the Teide volcano in Spain. Instead of heading to Flanders, he will race the Vuelta a Castilla y León (April 15-17) as well as the Ardennes classics at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Those will be his final races before the Giro, which starts May 6 in the Netherlands.

“Tirreno-Adriatico and the pace of the race made Alejandro look toward the Giro even more excited than he already was,” said Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué in a team release. “That’s why we both agreed it was better to change his race program, so he tackles the first grand tour of the year with focus and calmness, with the best physical condition possible, yet not avoiding two races — Flèche and Liège — where we both have got great results during the last decade.”

Valverde was 15th in Milano-Sanremo over the weekend, but he will not be at the northern classics as expected. Valverde’s spot in Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem as well as Flanders will be filled out by others on the squad.

Without Valverde, Movistar will race with the following riders heading into Flanders: Andrey Amador, Nelson Oliveira, Jasha Sütterlin, Fran Ventoso, Juanjo Lobato, Carlos Betancur, Antonio Pedrero, and Jorge Arcas.