The battle for overall honours at the Vuelta a España remains delicately poised after a testing afternoon in the Basque Country on Monday, but Belgian pair Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) were among those to record significant losses on the final climb of the Alto de Arrate at the end of stage three.
Van Den Broeck finished fourth overall at July’s Tour de France but entered the Vuelta insistent that he had no general classification aspirations. The Lotto Belisol climber struggled with the changes in tempo imposed by Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) in the finale on Monday, and he came home over three minutes down in 70th place.
"After the Tour, I enjoyed life for a few weeks, so this is logical," Van Den Broeck told Het Nieuwsblad. The Belgian was said to have endured a rather Spartan regime in May and June as he built up to the Tour de France, including lengthy spells at altitude.
"It would be sad if I were flying now and not at the Tour," Van Den Broeck mused. "Then I might as well not have done those months of preparation for the Tour."
Van Den Broeck is hopeful that he can find the form to win a stage later in the Vuelta but noted that, in any case, the race would serve as a useful base ahead of next season.
"This really comes as no surprise. I didn’t come here for the overall standings, but so that my condition can grow again before the winter," he said. "Meanwhile, aiming for a stage win was the goal and that remains the case."
His fellow countryman Thomas De Gendt was a surprise podium finisher at the Giro d’Italia, leaping up the standings after winning the penultimate stage atop the Stelvio. Like Van Den Broeck, the Vacansoleil rider conceded ground at the first hurdle of this Vuelta, finishing the stage in 59th place, 2:07 down on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
"I lost 60 to 70 positions braking at a traffic island so I was at the very back when the final climb started," De Gendt said, according to Sporza. "After losing two minutes, it will be hard to get a place of honour. I don’t feel bad, but I don’t have the legs of the Giro. Yet I feel good enough to aim at winning a stage."