Richard Carapaz may have hit the crossbars rather than scoring the winning goal at the Tour of Pologne's viciously-steep summit finish on Monday, but with his eye on the long-term, the Ineos Grenadiers racer was satisfied.
Finishing 13th and last of the little lead group in the explosive uphill finish in Przemyśl, Carapaz looked cheerful as he downed an energy drink in the shade of the small section of woodland that covered the stage 3 summit before heading for the team bus and a welcome shower.
On a good day all around for Ineos Grenadiers, his teammate Ethan Hayter claimed 11th while Ben Tulett was just five seconds off the lead group's pace. Carapaz explained that he had come to Pologne looking to confirm his form was building correctly for the Vuelta. And in terms of that bigger picture, finishing in the same time as the leader was a solid result
"The final was very explosive, I didn't know it, but I knew it was very important for the stage," Carapaz told Cyclingnews. "We took control of the race at the start of the climb and then, well, the best guy won.
"But after stopping racing at the Giro d’Italia now I've got good feelings here, and looking at my objective which is the Vuelta, I can tell we're on the right track."
Carapaz looked to be in a great position to maybe go for the win as Jhonatan Narvaez and Ben Tulett drove hard on the lower slopes, before fading slightly higher up as the front group reformed and just before the road flattened out for the finishing straight.
But as Ineos Grenadiers Sports Director Matteo Tosatto told Cyclingnews, with two riders in the same time as Higuita, and Tulett only slightly further adrift, overall the result was in no way disappointing for the squad.
"We came out with the intention of going for the stage win, above all for Richard or perhaps Ben if he was going really well," he said. "But it's Richard's first race since he did the Giro and although he showed he's got good condition, he didn't quite have it in the last 400 metres.
"That said, we're pleased, they all did well, they've been at training camp and so we'll see how it goes from here day by day."
Tosatto agreed that after a long training camp, sometimes it is hard for riders to handle the sudden, vicious accelerations and changes of pace that feature so much in racing, particularly on a climb like Monday's, and Carapaz perhaps paid for that.
"It's always missing a bit to start with. But overall we've got to be pleased with the team's performance. [Salvatore] Puccio worked very hard early on, Elia Viviani has done a great job laying down a great pace for 10 or 12 kilometres before the first climb - they all did so well.
"As a comeback race from the Giro, this is great. And the important thing is to be getting back into top form, day by day."
As for the stages to come in Pologne, Tosatto feels that stage 4 on Tuesday with nearly 3,000 metres of climbing will not do much to continue the wearing-down process amidst the top names. Rather, Thursday's time trial, for all it has been shortened from its original distance of 16 kilometres to now stand at 11, is likely the one that will decide the race.
"Tuesday's stage is definitely much harder than today, but I would doubt there's going to be many gaps between the main contenders, maybe the top 20 overall.
"The time trial is a bit special, it's only 11 kilometres long, but it's really demanding. So the GC is still open and we're among those candidates for the win."
As for Ineos Grenadiers third overall option, Hayter, in Thursday's time trial, Tosatto is guardedly optimistic.
"He's done some great time trials recently," he said. "As I've said before, it's not a simple time trial, because there's a lot of altitude gain. I'd say the first part, which is flatter, is more Ethan's kind of TT and the second part is not so good for him.
"But we've got a lot of confidence in him and in Ben Tulett as well. And in Richard, of course, even if his big goal here is to build up steadily for the Vuelta. But he's in a great position, so we'll see what happens."
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