Steven Kruijswijk's hopes for a Vuelta a Espana podium position took a hit on stage 3 as the Dutchman suffered on the Mirador de Ézaro finale. Kruijswijk came into the Vuelta with the aim of confirming his fourth place at the Giro d'Italia in May was not a one-off result but finds himself on the backfoot with 18 stages still to come.
Following his breakout ride at the Giro, Kruijswijk rode just two races before lining out at the Vuelta but it was illness rather than a lack of miles that undid his ambitions on the Mirador de Ézaro.
"I started this Vuelta with ambitions, so you want to finish among the best riders on the first summit finish," Kruijswijk said. "I wasn't able to do that, today, clearly. I didn't feel strong. The only reason I can give is my illness in the past weeks, which was the reason that I haven't been able to train a lot.
While the 29-year-old moved up from 28th to 27th overall, he conceded over one minute to his major GC rivals.
"I slipped back a little bit and I have to make sure that I'm able to improve in this race to make the most of it. I'm confident about tomorrow in some way because I feel fit and healthy again. I'm not in my best shape, but I'm expecting to improve in the upcoming days," he added.
LottoNL-Jumbo's ambitions for a high result also took a hit with Robert Gesink and George Bennett finishing on the same time as Kruijswijk, 2:02 minutes down on stage winner Alexandre Geniez (FDJ). Bennett and Kruijswijk are currently the best placed riders from the team on GC, 2:14 minutes down on Movistar's Ruben Fernandez.
"We're fed up with this, but we still have 18 stages to go," sports director Jan Boven said. "We didn't start this Vuelta perfectly because Steven Kruijswijk got sick after the Olympic Games. The team time trial went surprisingly well when you're looking at it from that point of view, but the heavy stages like today and tomorrow come a little bit too early for him. Steven wants to compete with the best, but after his preparation, it's all about limiting the damage as little as possible.
A disappointed Boven added that he expects Kruijswijk to bounce back and ensure that stage 3 is an aberration.
"It didn't turn out the way we wanted, today. He shouldn't have lost much fitness, anyway, because he has been able to complete preparation up through the Olympic Games. He just lost his top form after being sick," said Boven. "From now on, he has to make sure that he improves during this race."