TOMARES, Spain (VN) — A stomach virus, crashes, heat, and weary legs are taking their toll on Dimension Data.
On Friday, the team lost 2016 Vuelta king of the mountains Omar Fraile to illness, leaving the South African squad with just three riders with more than a week left in the Vuelta a España.
“The main problem is a virus,” said Dimension Data sport director Alex Sans Vega. “The symptoms are the same. They have chills, they feel weak, stomach pains. They cannot eat anything, they cannot drink anything. They’re dizzy. And with the speed and the heat at [90-plus degrees], there was a danger of falling.”
The team came to this Vuelta hoping to win a stage. Now with only three riders left, there is a lot more room on the team bus.
“I have the entire back of the bus to myself,” joked grand tour rookie Lachlan Morton. “It’s a real shame to lose those guys. We’ll keep fighting.”
The team’s problems started in Nimes, France, at the Vuelta start. American rider Ben King got a stomach virus, and was unable to start stage 3.
To make sure there wasn’t a problem with the food, the team threw away all of its ingredients and cooking material and bought new products. Dimension Data uses its own cooking truck, so it does not believe the source came from the kitchen.
More riders left when Youcef Reguigui crashed out of stage 5 and then Nick Dougall could not finish stage 6. Merhawi Kudus, who finished second in stage 5, did not finish stage 7.
Team doctors have been checking riders but have been unable to precisely locate the source of the virus. What they do know is that it can strike fast.
And on Friday, it was Fraile, who was second in the breakaway stage Thursday. Midway through Friday’s stage, Fraile was vomiting and unable to keep up with the peloton.
“I felt fine yesterday, but I started to feel funny at dinner. Then I had a terrible night, and could barely sleep,” Fraile said. “I was throwing up what I was trying to eat or drink during the stage. It was impossible to carry on.”
Dimension Data said it was more prudent to allow the frail Fraile to abandon, than to nurse him through the stage. He would have then faced Saturday’s demanding mountain stage to Jaén.
“And we know from experience, even if he could have finished today, he wouldn’t have made it through tomorrow,” Sans Vega said. “Oscar couldn’t even drink today, and was getting cramps even in his arms. It wasn’t worth the risk that he might crash, or cause others in the peloton to crash as well.”
It’s not the first time one team has been ravaged by illness and crashes. During the 2014 Giro d’Italia, only Svein Tuft and Luke Durbridge finished the race for Orica-Scott.
Dimension Data will start Saturday’s stage 14 with Morton, Igor Antón, and Janse Van Rensburg.
“There are still some opportunities to try to win a stage,” said Morton, who is making his grand tour debut. “Right now, I am just hoping to make it to Madrid. I’ve had a few rough days, and then some days I’ve felt pretty good. It’s definitely a little more quiet around the dinner table at night.”