EF Pro Cycling's Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Higuita remain well in the running after a tricky opening stage to the Critérium du Dauphiné on Wednesday. Uran forced pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) to react with a strong attack on the uphill finish to Saint-Christo-en-Jarez with three kilometres to go, and was able to finish in the 60-strong front group, while Colombian road race champion Higuita was able to follow the best to the line to take seventh place on the stage.
"In the final few kilometres of the race, I was feeling good, and so wanted to test things a bit," Uran said on the EF Pro Cycling website on Wednesday afternoon. "It was a hard final, and they didn't give me a lot of space. But it felt good, and I feel happy with that as a first day back."
Both Uran and Higuita were riding their first race since the sport's shutdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with 33-year-old Uran having last competed at the Tour Colombia 2.1 in February and 23-year-old Higuita having last raced at Paris-Nice in March, where he finished third overall.
Both riders returned home to Colombia during the break in competition, and trained regularly together, but it was nothing compared to returning to race in Europe against the best riders in the world, with later goals in mind, Uran said.
"It's all about building as much strength as possible ahead of the Tour de France," he said. "We have a great team here and we want to do well, but it's going to be a complicated race because it's a really hard one. On the whole it was a good first day, though.
"Between us and the guys who have raced already this season, you can notice a bit of a difference, because they've already done quite a few days and so they're already back into that racing rhythm, and we're a bit behind them," admitted Uran. "But we're really not worried about it because we're motivated to do well.
"We were up there today, but we also know there might be one or two days where we're not, but it's all about getting back in there and seeing what we have, and just enjoying the race," he said.
Head sports director Charly Wegelius added that getting that first day back of competition in the bag was important.
"It's nice to get the first day of racing out of the way without any big hiccups," he said. "It's been a long time for this group to be away from racing, of course, and they're coming into a group of riders who have been racing for a while. So to get those first-day-of-school nerves out of the way is great.
"I think the first impressions are that the group functioned really well," continued Wegelius. "I'm sure there are little bits and pieces that need to be worked on, which we will take care of this week. It was really nice to see Rigo on top of his game in the final, and I think Sergio did a super finish, even though we probably would have preferred they put the finish 150 metres further up the hill – but you can't have it all your own way."
Uran, Higuita and their EF teammates – who include Tejay van Garderen, Hugh Carty and Dani Martinez – face a shorter but sharper second stage of the Dauphiné from Vienne to the Col de Porte on Thursday: just 135 kilometres in length, but with an uphill start and three categorised climbs along the way before a summit finish on the hors-catégorie (HC) Col de Porte, on which stage 1 winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is likely to lose his race lead, which means that it will be up for grabs between the world's best climbers.
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