It's one of cycling's most timeworn cliches that the first mountain stage of a Grand Tour don't usually show who can win it outright, but they do show who is likely not to. And when Samuel Sanchez fell back half way up the Monte de Groba on stage 2 of the Vuelta a España, the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader became the first big name to suffer that fate.
Sanchez is far from the only one: Sergio Henao (Team Sky) lost the same amount of time and Giro hero Carlos Alberto Betancur (Ag2R), briefly touted as a top contender, finished nearly ten minutes down. But as a double podium finisher in the Vuelta, Sánchez was widely touted as Euskaltel-Euskadi's best option to claim a first Grand Tour win in their final three-week stage race before the team folds.
"I had a bad day, there's not much point in going into more detail," Sanchez said afterwards. "With seven or eight kilometres to go, I had a moment of weakness and that was it, nothing more than that."
"The change of pace from flat to climb is always a tough one and always catches some riders out and this time round it was me.
"The race has just started and we will see what happens, but it's not the ideal start at all."
Euskaltel-Euskadi's best-placed rider is now Mikel Nieve, 1:14 back, the winner of mountain stages in the Giro and in the Vuelta a few years back and tenth overall in the 2012 Giro.
In what is a re-run of the 2013 Giro, Sky's Rigoberto Urán has now become the team's main GC contender after their touted pre-race leader - in the Giro Bradley Wiggins, in the Vuelta Sergio Henao - lost time. In Henao's case, the Colombian lost nearly three minutes, and although he is still just about in the frame at 2:41 on Nibali, turning around that result may be very hard.
"He wasn't going well today, there's a lot of stress in this kind of racing and it's very complicated to stay ahead sometimes," Urán said. "But there's still a long way to go."
Any question marks over whether Urán would continue to race hard for Sky right up until the end of his contract have now evaporated. "I'm with Sky right the way through to the end of the season." Urán said, "and I'm going to give it everything I can here."
Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez said he was pleased with he had bounced back after a deeply disappointing team time trial, with Fleche Wallone winner Daniel Moreno (Katusha) in difficulties during Saturday's stage but then coming close to the win on Sunday.
"I'm a little bit ring-rusty after such a long spell off from racing but I'm doing ok," the Katusha leader said. "I told Dani to go for it at the end to see if he could get us a win:"
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was equally upbeat even though he had no team-mates with him inthe front group in the final kilometre, shaving two seconds off Nibali's lead.
"We thought the break was going to stick and we wanted it to get there," Valverde said, "but then when they were brought back I decided to try for the win. If Roche hadn't gone for it, I think I might have got 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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