After two wins in three days and with the overall leader’s jersey on his back, Tim Wellens' path to overall victory in the Vuelta a Andalucia looked on track on Friday. But 24 hours later, after a tough mountain stage where he was dropped at the foot of the toughest climb, the Lotto Soudal rider had slumped ninth place overall.
Wellens finished 19th on the stage, over three minutes down on stage winner Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), but refused to blame the multiple race incidents, including an early crash and so problems with his saddle on the final descent, for his losing the lead. But the Belgian recognised that it had been a brutally difficult day.
“I had a problem with my radio at the beginning of the race, and when I was coming back from the car I slipped on a corner,” a visibly tired Wellens told Cyclingnews afterwards.
“It wasn’t a bad crash, but then on the final downhill my saddle came loose because of it so I had to change bikes and I lost even more time then.”
“It was a hard day with a lot of problems, but to be honest, even if I hadn’t had any problems, I wouldn’t have been with that first group. I don’t think that crash made a big difference.”
Wellens had hoped to survive on the final climb so it would have been possible to pull back any riders who had broken away on the descent. Instead, he found himself battling to try and limit the gaps on the chase group.
His problems had really started when he was isolated in the front group of favourites with Astana keeping a ferociously high pace on the first big climb, the Purche, then the Kazakh team and Mitchelton-Scott driving away on the second last ascent.
“When all my teammates had gone, and they started to attack, I knew it would be difficult,” Wellens reflected.
Wellens admitted that it was possible that he had paid a price for not being able to train for nearly a week because of a viral problem after his strong start in Mallorca, where he won one of the hardest of the four one-day races. Overall, though, with two stage wins and three days in the lead, Wellens considered the Vuelta a Andalucia a good week of racing.
“If you had told me this was what I would have got from Andalucia this year, I would have signed immediately beforehand. Of course it hurts to give the leader’s jersey away, but to be honest, I couldn’t keep up with the best. That’s cycling.”