Dimension Data's difficult Vuelta a España, with three riders already out because of a virus, got even worse on Friday as Merhawi Kudus crashed out injured. The team is now down to five riders after just a week of racing.
"It never rains, but it pours," as the saying has it, or as the Spanish put it, "For a thin dog, everything looks like the fleas," but the proverb's meaning is the same: when things are bad, they can always get worse. For Dimension Data, that was bleakly true on Friday, when Kudus hit the deck. To make matters worse, Kudus had been racing strongly, finishing ninth in the Vuelta a Burgos prior to the Spanish Grand Tour, then taking second in a very tough uphill finish on the Vuelta a Espana's fifth stage to Santa Lucia.
"Merhawi got a very big cut in his knee, and the race doctor told him he should stop and get in an ambulance because it was very deep," Bingen Fernández, Dimension Data sports director, told Cyclingnews as he stood outside the team bus after the stage. "He's got another cut above his eye, more cuts in his face, and cuts and bruises everywhere else because the crash was at 50 or 60 km/h."
The crash was at the mid-way point of the race, kilometre 105 of the 207 in total on the stage. "It was just after the feed zone, coming out of the village, but it's not clear what exactly happened," Fernández said.
Ben King, Nick Dougall and Youcef Reguigui have already headed home because of illness, putting Dimension Data at just above 50 per cent of their starting numbers. The only consolation - and it is no small matter - is that Omar Fraile, the former King of the Mountains and Giro d'Italia stage winner, appears to be over the virus that swept through the team.
"He wasn't so great, but it seems to be stabilizing, and that's important," Fernández said. "Normally, we hope it gets better."
The virus, he said, was "like a kind of flu. It started on the second day with Ben King, and it just makes you feel really, really weak and in pain, with headaches."
Trying to get team morale to improve in such difficult circumstances, he said, was something that would begin in earnest on Saturday, "because up until now it's been about damage limitation."
"But now those who are still with us are doing better or are getting better," Fernández said, "so we'll start working on that from here on in."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.