Esteban Chaves may have had to wait a year longer than he would liked to debut in a Grand Tour, but for now the 24-year-old's first experience in a three-week stage race could hardly be going better.
The Orica-GreenEdge pro is currently lying sixth overall in the Vuelta a Espana, 26 seconds overall. And whilst teammate Michael Matthews' stage win and spell in la roja as race leader ease any possible sense of pressure, the young Colombian is perfectly placed for a GC challenge in his own right when the road steepens towards La Zubia's summit finish on Thursday's stage 6.
It could have all come sooner, of course, had not the talented climber suffered a terrible crash in February 2013 in the Trofeo Laguiglea. The 2011 Tour de L'Avenir winner badly hurt his arm ligaments, to the point where he has had some difficulty using his arm even earlier this year.
However, after a year of rehabilitation, 2014 could not have gone better, with stage wins in the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse. So what does he expect from the Vuelta?
"The race is only just beginning, but for now I can't complain, it's all going very well," he told Cyclingnews. "We weren't expecting to do so well in the team time trial, losing by just six seconds was a great start. This isn't the top squad for team time trials, but we checked it out very carefully in the days leading up to the Vuelta and it worked out very well."
"I've been training for the general classification, and I think it's the first time the team has fielded a candidate for that [in the Vuelta]. So we'll see how it goes, little by little."
He admits that he may lack a little top-end form because his last race was in the Tour de Suisse, spending instead "a great deal of time in Colombia training there. Hopefully I'll get that before we hit the really hard stages" - with today's [Thursday's] ascent of La Zubia the first moment of truth.
He did lose seven seconds on stage 2's ascent to Arcos de la Frontera, but as he said, "you don't lose or win a Grand Tour by seven seconds. It's on stage 6 where we won't see who's going to win la Vuelta, but we'll definitely see who's going to lose it."
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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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