The promise of crosswinds on stage 2 of the Vuelta a España was on paper a threatening affair for lither climbers such as Esteban Chaves. However, come days end and the Orica-Scott rider finished in Gruissan with a three-second advantage on his main GC rivals as QuickStep-Floors' Yves Lampaert took the win and moved into the leader's jersey.
Chaves finished 11th in the chaotic finale and jumped up the overall standings from 28th to 17th and is just five seconds down on Chris Froome (Team Sky) after the challenging opening to the Spanish Grand Tour. Only Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was ahead of Chaves in the finale.
The 2014 Vuelta a España was Chaves' debut Grand Tour in which he finished 41st overall. He returned the following year to win two stages, wear the leader's red jersey and finish fifth overall. Chaves again improved in 2016 as he rode to third place overall to confirm his promise as a Grand Tour contender. After riding the Tour de France in July largely to build his base for the Vuelta after a knee injury impeded his spring, the 27-year-old was full of praise for his teammates on a day that could well have ended his GC aims.
"Today was a really crazy stage. No breakaway, all day full stress, really fast average speed and a crazy final," said Chaves. "But I am lucky, I have big guys like Svein Tuft, Chris Juul-Jensen and Sam Bewley to protect me from the wind and I had good sensations."
While Chaves was attentive in stealing in for the advantage over his rivals, Orica-Scott's two other GC riders Adam and Simon Yates conceded three and eight seconds respectively to their teammates. For sports director Neil Stephens, the time loss for the Yates' wasn't ideal but he explained that he'd rather lose seconds than minutes on such a stage.
"All of the team, not just the GC teams, were nervous about the wind, the narrow roads and the road furniture. It was a nervous day all up and a good one to have behind us," Stephens said. "There a couple of gaps in the finish but, if anything, we gained a little bit of time so it was a positive day all around."
Stage 3 of the Vuelta is the first of the race for the climbers as the race heads to Andorra la Vella with three categorised climbs to test the legs of the peloton.