Beñat Intxausti abandoned the Arctic Race of Norway on the opening stage, unable to keep up with the high pace that lasted from start to finish. The Euskadi Basque Country-Murias team insisted it was not linked to the Spaniard's recent struggles with mononucleosis.
Intxausti, a Giro d'Italia stage winner and top 10 overall finisher while at Movistar, joined his local Basque Pro Continental team after three years at Team Sky that were derailed by the long-lasting illness.
At the start of this year, he insisted he was clear of the virus, which was diagnosed in early 2016, just a few months into his Sky career, and saw him line up fewer than 20 times over the course of three years.
This year, Intxausti has done a lot more racing, with 37 days of competition so far, but he also has a string of DNFs to his name. The Arctic Race of Norway exit means that he has now entered 10 stage races and finished just three – the Volta ao Alentejo, Tour of Turkey and Vuelta a Madrid. He has entered six one-day races but didn't finish any of them.
"It's nothing to do with his health," David Echavarri, Euskadi-Murias' director at the race, told Cyclingnews. "In terms of the illness, he is ok. Things have been going well and he's been doing a lot of races this year."
The explanation, according to Echavarri, was that he simply struggled to cope with an intense, aggressive stage after a light couple of weeks in terms of riding.
No proper breakaway was able to be formed as the stage – relatively innocuous on paper – started fast and furious and never really let up. A split in the peloton sent a group of 33 clear with more than 100km to go, and it was full-on racing all the way to the line.
"You saw, the pace was very very high," Echavarri said. "That's it."
There was one other abandon on the stage, with Rally UHC's Robin Carpenter pulling out with a knee injury.
Intxausti won a stage and finished 8th overall at the Giro d'Italia in 2013, and recorded top-five overall finishes at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour of the Basque Country, Tour de Romandie, and Tour de Pologne while at Movistar.
His time at Sky was ruined by mononucleosis, despite the British team giving adding a year to his contract in 2018 to help him back to full health. He announced his decision to step down to Pro Continental level with Euskadi-Murias last autumn and, after an encouraging winter, declared himself fully recovered and spoke of his desire to return to the WorldTour.
Intxausti had hoped to make a return to Grand Tour racing at the Vuelta a España, which begins next Saturday, but it is not clear if he will be selected by the team.