Fabio Aru (Astana) was present and correct for the first major rendezvous of the Vuelta a España on the Alto de la Comella on stage 3, eventually placing sixth at the finish in Andorra la Vella to move up to seventh overall, 38 seconds behind new leader Chris Froome (Sky).
Aru was well-placed as Froome's Sky team whittled the leading group down to its bare bones on the short final climb, and limited the damage when Froome and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) accelerated clear near the summit.
The Italian champion latched back on over the top in the company of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), but that quartet was joined by a small chasing group in the final kilometre, where Aru's old teammate Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) anticipated the sprint to snare a canny victory.
The Vuelta is Aru's first competitive race since he placed fifth overall at the Tour de France in July, but he warned that Monday's stage was not necessarily a confirmation of his condition.
"To be honest I'm still going day by day because I rested after the Tour de France and I didn't race, so I don't know how my body will react in these first days of the Vuelta," Aru said. “I prefer to be careful and find out how I feel, also because of the season I have had up to now. I prepared for the Giro, then I rode the Tour, and now I'm here at the Vuelta… But, day by day, step by step, I will wait for important feedback."
Surgery for Javier Moreno
Javier Moreno (Bahrain-Merida) was forced out of the Vuelta a España before it even reached Spanish soil when he crashed on the road to Gruissan on stage 2. The Spaniard sustained a fractured jawbone in the incident and he is set to undergo surgery in Malaga on Tuesday.
"I got many messages of encouragement that give me a lot of strength and that will help me to return," Moreno wrote on social media on Monday. "I'm feeling good considering what happened. Tomorrow I will be operated on in Malaga for a fractured jaw."
Moreno's team leader Vincenzo Nibali was among those to extend his good wishes on Monday. The Sicilian claimed a fine victory on the Vuelta's opening mountain leg, which brought the race over the Pyrenees and into Andorra.
"I'm happy for me and my teammates, including those who are injured," Nibali said. "Moreno broke his jaw in two places yesterday. This victory is for him above all."
It has been a rather ill-starred season for Moreno, who joined the nascent Bahrain-Merida squad at the beginning of the campaign after five years in the colours of Movistar. Moreno was excluded from the Giro d'Italia on stage 4 after pushing Diego Rosa (Team Sky) on the run-in to the foot of Mount Etna, though the Spaniard proceeded to make his Tour de France debut in July.
Xavier Tondo remembered
The Vuelta a España will pay tribute to the late Xavier Tondo with an intermediate sprint in his home town of Valls on Tuesday's stage 4 to Tarragona.
Tondo was tragically killed in a freak accident May 2011 when his garage door fell on him while he was preparing to leave for a training ride. He was 32 years old.
A professional since 2003, Tondo raced on Spanish and Portuguese Pro Continental teams in the early part of his career, before stepping up with Cervélo in 2010, when he placed fifth overall at the Vuelta. He signed for Movistar at the start of 2011, winning the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
The Vuelta will pass through Valls with 33 kilometres to go on Tuesday afternoon. The Club De Cyclisme Xavi Tondo will be present en masse at the intermediate sprint bearing banners in remembrance of the late rider.
Damage limitation for Meintjes in Andorra
Louis Meintjes climbed into the top 20 of the Vuelta a Espana's general classification after the stage 3 finish into Andorra la Vella. However, Meintjes lost almost a minute to most of the major general classification riders and admitted that he hadn't been on the best day.
Meintjes was dropped along with Alberto Contador when the initial surge came from Team Sky at the foot of the Alto de la Comella. Meintjes fared better than the Spaniard, taking his own time up the ascent and minimising his losses, and with plenty of mountains to come in the next three weeks he's not manning panic stations just yet.
"It wasn't a super day and since I'm familiar with the last climb, I preferred to do it at my own pace, trying to lose as fewer seconds as possible," Meintjes said after the stage. "It was the first hard day of the Vuelta a España and the road to Madrid is long."
After giving away 54 seconds to stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and new race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), Meintjes now sits in 20th spot at 1:43 down with the next mountain stage not until the end of the first week of racing.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.