The Vuelta al País Vasco turned out to be a short one for Rabobank captain Denis Menchov, who dropped out 18 kilometres into the first stage.
"We saw it coming. Denis had been suffering from it [bronchitis] the past couple of days but wanted to give it a try," said Directeur Sportif Erik Breukink yesterday, on the team's website, Rabobank.nl. "He had to find a way to get through the worst part and then he probably would have been able to finish today, but he really could not do it. His shape is not yet good enough to make these efforts."
Breukink added that, "It is bad at the moment but it is better that it happens now than in May or June."
"The Rabo team did not really stand out in the first stage," as the team's website put it. Mauricio Ardila Cano and Pieter Weening both finished within a minute of the winner. 'Mountain man' Michael Rasmussen came in 2'43" down, "but there is no reason to be worried about the Dane at this stage of the season."
One Rabo rider was happy -- Grischa Niermann, who was making his return to the peloton after breaking his ankle in Tirreno-Adriatico. He admitted that an opening stage with nine mountains may not be exactly the right comeback after such an injury, but "At 154th, I still finished ahead of 25 others."
The good news was that his ankle didn't hurt during the race and the bandage he has to wear doesn't hinder him. "Besides, I've always had my problems with the first stage of this race (and this is already the ninth time I've ridden it!)," he wrote on his website, grischa-niermann.de