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Valverde forced to miss Tour de France

TOP-RANKED cyclist Alejandro Valverde will not race in the Tour de France next month because of a doping ban in Italy.

Valverde met on Tuesday with his lawyers, who explained that the Spaniard won't have any recourse against the ban before the three-week Tour starts in Monaco on July 4, his Caisse d'Epargne team said. The race dips into Italy on July 21.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has agreed to hear Valverde's appeal to overturn the Italian ban, but any decision won't come early enough for him to start the Tour, the team said on Tuesday.

"In these circumstances, knowing that the race heads into Italian territory, we find ourselves obliged to announce that Alejandro Valverde won't take the start of the 2009 Tour," Caisse d'Epargne said in its statement.

The team called the situation "unfair" and said it would cause "damage difficult to repair" for the sponsor, as well as Valverde and fans.

Valverde is challenging a two-year ban imposed last month by the Italian Olympic Committee that prevents him riding in Italy.

CONI said a blood sample taken from Valverde at last year's Tour, during a rest day in Italy, matched DNA from blood bags seized during a doping investigation in Spain called Operation Puerto.

Despite the legal turmoil, Valverde has won two stage races - the Tour of Catalonia and France's Dauphine Libere - since his May 11 suspension by CONI.

The ongoing Puerto inquiry began in 2006 when a Madrid clinic was raided to gather evidence about a Spanish doctor allegedly at the center of a blood-doping ring. More than 50 cyclists were implicated.

Valverde tops the International Cycling Union's world rankings with 295 points - ahead of 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain, at 263, and Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov (218).


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