Non c'è mai due senza tre, says the Italian proverb. Two pieces of bad luck are usually followed by a third. Astana discovered as much on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia from Alcoma to Agrigento, where Aleksandr Vlasov abandoned the race citing stomach problems.
The team had already had to alter their Giro line-up as a precaution late last week after Kazakhstani riders Yuriy Natarov and Vadim Pronskiy had close contact with a teammate who tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus. Then on Saturday, Miguel Ángel López, who had been drafted late as a most deluxe gregario, crashed heavily into the barriers – and out of the Giro – after he appeared to hit a bump in the road during the opening time trial in Palermo.
On an anonymous stretch of Strada Statale 115 near Sciacca on Sunday, Astana suffered yet another setback, when Vlasov slowed to stop and called a halt to his Grand Tour debut midway through stage 2. The Russian was visibly in distress as he leant over at the roadside before climbing into an Astana team car, his race over before it really began.
"I cannot put into words how disappointed and sad I am," Vlasov said in a statement released by his team after the stage. "It would have been my first participation and to be one of the helpers for Jakob [Fuglsang] was an honour for me, and now I leave the Giro."
Winner of the under-23 Giro two years ago, Vlasov is in his first season at WorldTour level and he had provided repeated examples of his potential over the course of the year, starting with an insouciant stage win at La Ciotat at the Tour de la Provence in February.
The long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic did little to knock the youngster off his stride. He returned to competition in France in August with third place at the Route d'Occitanie and a win atop Mont Ventoux. He proceeded to dovetail to good effect with Fuglsang in Italy, teeing up the Dane to win Il Lombardia, then helping himself to the Giro dell'Emilia.
Despite his lack of pedigree in three-week racing, Vlasov's startling sequence of form saw him touted by many as a dark horse for the Giro podium. Some wondered if he might even emulate his fellow Vyborg native Evgeni Berzin and claim the overall title. His abandon sees that intriguing subplot excised from a Giro d'Italia that is still in its opening chapter.
"It is how it is. I have been dealing since yesterday night with stomach problems, and unfortunately, it wasn't getting better and I wasn't able to continue at one point," Vlasov said. "I feel sorry for Jakob and also for the team not being able to help them any longer, but I am confident that I will return stronger."
Fuglsang, for his part, will continue the Giro with just five teammates, after losing López and Vlasov – his strongest foils – on successive days. The Dane had already suffered a setback of his own in the opening time trial on Saturday, losing 1:47 in the downhill time trial to Palermo to maglia rosa Filippo Ganna, and 1:23 to general classification contender Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
"Sadly, we lost Aleksandr today, it would have been his first participation and also he was in such great shape. It is such a pity after López that we also lost him now, but nothing we can do about it," said Fuglsang, who finished safely near the head of the peloton on the uphill finale in Agrigento, placing 12th on the stage just behind Thomas.
On Monday, Fuglsang will hope to begin his ascent of the GC when the race features its first summit finish at Mount Etna.
"Today was the first road stage, and as always it was quite nervous and at the end fast. Manuele [Boaro] did an amazing job and kept the pace high while putting me into position. Tomorrow will be the first mountain top finish and it will be for sure a tough battle up to the volcano," Fuglsang added.
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