Dutch hope Robert Gesink indisputably has been one of the best climbers in this year's Vuelta a España, but his chance of taking the final victory - and even a place on the podium - evaporated on the last mountain stage on Friday.
The Rabobank rider crashed hard two days ago on the stage to Talavera de la Reina and he suffered various injuries, including a deep wound to his knee. He was in difficulty for awhile yesterday but finished with the main contenders; however, today he was dropped on the penultimate climb of the Puerto de la Morcuera and was in difficulty once more on the second ascent of the Puerto de la Navacerrada.
His squad rallied around him but with teams like Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaldel Euskadi and Silence Lotto mercilessly driving the pace, he eventually lost four minutes 44 seconds to stage winner Juan José Cobo (Fuji Servetto). This saw him drop to sixth overall, five minutes and 30 seconds back.
"Yesterday was already a very bad day," said directeur sportif Eric Breukink. "Today he was a little bit better, he was feeling better in the morning than yesterday. But when the race started, he quickly had problems and he couldn't follow the rest.
"His knee is one problem, but also after the crash his riding completely changed. He was in super form, but after the crash it was finished."
Breukink said the team is left thinking about what might have been. Gesink is just 23 years of age and has had a superb early career, as was detailed recently. He crashed out of this year's Tour de France but seemed set to make amends in the Spanish race. "I think he had a good chance to finish second or third overall," said Breukink. "In the mountains he was one of the best riders here in the Vuelta. We don't forget that, but you don't want to finish without something. For him, it is worse - he is very disappointed."
However, it's clear that the ability is there to have a big career. "We have to take out the positive things, he is still very young and he showed he is already capable of riding for the podium in Grand Tours."
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