Esteban Chaves (Orica Scott) enjoyed his first thorough mountain workout of the year on stage 6 of the Criterium du Dauphine, and although he admitted to Cyclingnews that exuberance and excitement led to him cracking, he continues to improve ahead of next month's Tour de France.
The Colombian finished 17th on the stage, 2:19 down on winner Jakob Fulgsang (Astana Team), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) and he remains outside of the top 15 in the general classification. However, Chaves came to the Dauphine looking for form and a block of uninterrupted racing rather than a major result after a long-standing knee injury. Before this week's Dauphine, he had not raced since the Herald Sun Tour in February, with his condition forcing him to skip race after race throughout the spring. The Dauphine was his final chance to prove his health before Tour de France.
"It was a hard day. It was really fast all day and after AG2R moved to the front it was even faster before the climb. On the ascent the guys were just faster than me but this was the first real climb I've done since Lombardia last year," Chaves told Cyclingnews.
"I lost the wheels with around 3km to go and lost two minutes. It's good for the first day."
Stage 6 centred around the Mont du Chat with its 15 per cent gradient providing the first stern mountain test for the majority of the Tour de France hopefuls. Whether they had arrived from Tenerife, Andorra or Colombia, this was the first major competitive hit out for a number of contenders after time off. Chaves appeared to be in contention as the climb started and was well positioned with his teammate, Simon Yates, as AG2R and then BMC Racing set the pace. When Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked with 21km remaining in the stage, it was Chaves who reacted first. After so many months without competition it looked as though he was already somewhere near his best.
However, it was not to be, and once BMC have regained control of the first wave of attacks Chaves lack of sharpness began to catch up with him. He and Yates were both dropped before the summit and lost over two minutes to the podium contenders before the line.
"I tried to close the gap to Valverde but I killed myself," he said.
"It's okay and that's how it is. The last part was super hard and the descent was super scary. When I went after Valverde I think, perhaps, I was too excited. When I accelerated I thought that I had the speed in my legs and the change of speed from before but I don't quite have that yet."
With two more days in the mountains still to come before race wraps up on Sunday, Chaves is using the opportunity to build his stamina ahead of the Tour de France. Unlike Froome and Porte, who are challenging for the yellow jersey, Chaves' post-injury regime ensures that he takes a more gradual approach, leaving him with the knowledge that the training gains from the Dauphine is a result in itself.
"It's a good start, though, and I think the condition is improving and I hope that the next few days will help me improve," he added.