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By Andrew Hood
Garmin-Slipstream lost three riders in Thursday’s 18th stage at the Vuelta a España, leaving the squad with just four going into the final weekend of the race.
Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Meier did not start and Tom Danielson abandoned early in the stage from Talavera de la Reina to Ávila.
Hesjedal’s exit was planned to allow him a few days’ recovery ahead of the world championships next weekend while Meier suffered a death in his family.
Danielson, who started the stage ninth overall, finally succumbed to illness that’s plagued him since the stage to Sierra Nevada last weekend.
Danielson was active early in the stage, but a nasty cold forced him to pull the plug on what was shaping up to be a great Vuelta performance until sickness at Sierra Nevada torpedoed his chances for a shot at the podium.
“Tom has bronchitis. He cannot breathe at all and he can barely speak, so there was no question of him going on,” Garmin sport director Johnny Weltz told VeloNews. “He was hoping to be able to get through these two stages to make it to the time trial, but it just wasn’t possible. Tom’s disappointed, but he’s proven a lot in this Vuelta. He was with up with the best climbers every day until he got sick and he fought as long as he could. Going on was not possible.”
Danielson will try to recover in time to race the world championships next week in Switzerland.
Weltz said the team will finish off the Vuelta as best it can, with David Millar poised to make a run for the team’s third stage victory during this year’s edition in Saturday’s individual time trial in Toledo. Kiwi fast-man Julian Dean is closing in on finishing his third grand tour of the year and will be in with a shot for the sprint in Madrid on Sunday.
“We’re not in a good period, what can we do?” Weltz said. “Yesterday was close (with Martin Maaskant), so we’ll keep fighting. It’s been a good Vuelta for us, but riders are getting sick.”
Despite the early departures, Garmin is pleased with its Vuelta performances. The team won its first individual grand tour stages, with back-to-back victories with Tyler Farrar in stage 11 and with Hesjedal in stage 12.
Hesjedal said the team decided it wasn’t worth him risking an illness or crash ahead of the world championships in Mendrisio next weekend.
“Even though I’d love to keep riding and finish the Vuelta strong, it came down to risk management,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “We did not want to keep pushing it and take risks. My condition is there, but I was having a hard time recovering from day to day. I still have my opportunity at the worlds. I want to take a chance to perform well with the form that I have now.”