Orica-GreenEdge's Esteban Chaves survived his first full day as Vuelta a España leader unscathed and with nothing worse than a case of badly frazzled nerves to report - and the determination to stay in control of the race.
23rd at the finish, Chaves recognised that defending a Grand Tour lead was nail-biting work for rookies to that particular role such as himself, and the Colombian said afterwards, he had felt "really nervous all day."
The Orica-GreenEdge rider paid tribute to his teammates hard work at keeping him as relaxed as possible - under the circumstances no easy task, but "they're very experienced and good at keeping me calm. Riders like [veteran] Simon Gerrans are great at that."
Taking an early lead in the Vuelta and then defending it is relatively familiar work for Orica-GreenEdge. In 2014 Michael Matthews took a stage win and Vuelta lead at Arcos de la Frontera and then held la roja for three straight days in the first week. Chaves formed part of Orica-GreenEdge Vuelta squad last year, too, and and he was again part of the Giro d'Italia line up this spring where the Australians held onto the maglia rosa for the best part of a week, too.
Monday, though, was all about the Colombian in what is arguably the highest profile moment of his career so far. "Today was a very important day for me," the Colombian recognised, "it all passed off without any incidents and I will try and keep the lead for as long as possible."
The one downside for Orica-GreenEdge was that their sprinter Caleb Ewan was dropped on the mid-stage first category climb of Puerto del León and did not make it back to the main bunch for the sprint in Malaga. Ewan finally lost over 15 minutes.
Chaves said that rather than Orica-GreenEdge's high pace causing Ewan to be dropped, "Giant-Alpecin and Tinkoff-Saxo were going really hard, and that was when he got dropped."
Chaves next challenge will come on Tuesday's lengthy stage across south-west Andalucia, a 213 kilometre trek starting in Estepona and ending with a short, punchy ascent to Vejer de la Frontera. But so far, the Colombia's Vuelta could not be going better.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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