Stage 3 of the Vuelta a Espana confirmed BMC Racing's objectives for the race with Samuel Sánchez moving into sixth overall as Tejay van Garderen dropped out of contention for the podium to focus to stage wins.
The steep finish to Mirador de Erazo saw the first significant gaps open up on the general classification with Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) becoming the third leader in as many days as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost further time and Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez crashed at the base of the climb and lost over 12 minutes to his overall rivals.
Coming into the race, Sanchez was BMC's designated GC man and the 38-year-old repaid the faith as he crossed the line in eighth place, improving his overall position by 13 places.
"Today was not the hardest stage of the Vuelta a Espana but it was the first stage that could really make a difference in the race," Sánchez said. "It was a really, really, super hard uphill finish. On the first two climbs I was feeling good and worked on defending my position as we approached the final climb. I tried to stay up there with the Movistar Team riders ... and I was not too far behind when I crossed the line in eighth place.
"I am now sixth overall on GC so I'm happy. The Vuelta a Espana is a long race and we are only on stage 3, so I'll take things day by day."
Van Garderen told reporters on the eve of the Vuelta that he wouldn't be targeting the GC at a grand tour for the first time in career, explaining "The goal is not going to be GC, so that's an entirely different scenario to anything I'm used to."
Having lost over seven minutes on stage 3, the 28-year-old remained true to his statement. Well of the pace in the hunt for GC, van Garderen should be allowed the freedom from the peloton to chase stage wins in the mountains.
"Tejay van Garderen was going to see what he wanted to do with about 30km to go," sports director Max Sciandri explained. "He wasn't feeling 100 percent so rode with the main bunch, which will set him up nicely for stage wins in the next two weeks. The rest of the guys helped Sánchez out with his position leading into the final climb."
Sciandri added that the early shake up on GC is unusual compared to recent grand tours but the team is committed to delivering Sanchez to the best possible GC result.
"The fact that a stage this hard came on day three means that the gap between GC riders and stage riders is quite clear. Sometimes in other Grand Tours it takes 8 or 9 days to sort it out but the GC group is really quite defined," he added. "We have different, but clear objectives. Sánchez is our leader and we are going to protect him as much as possible, but of course we are going to try and wins stages as the race progresses."