Vuelta a Espana

Porte plummets as Vuelta trims a few big names

A Vuelta a España that began with a long list of favorites saw a few marquee names melt out of contention in Sunday’s opening road stage.

CAMINITO DEL REY, Spain (VN) — Well, that didn’t take long.

A Vuelta a España that started Saturday with a long list of favorites saw a few marquee names melt out of contention in Sunday’s opening road stage.

Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and former winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) lost time in the sweltering heat and fast pace of the 163.5km second stage across the parched hills of Andalucía. A few others struggled as well.

None of plummeting losses were entirely unexpected.

“Horrible,” Porte said when asked how he felt during the stage. “I have not had a very good lead-in so for me it’s not a surprise to be where I am at. Disappointed? No, more than anything, it’s expected.”

When Porte committed to race the Vuelta in the aftermath of his bad-luck crash at the Tour de France, he never played up his chances. The media, however, fanned the flames of a Porte assault on the red jersey.

Even if he was harboring secret dreams of a Vuelta revival, those hopes came tumbling down when he was zapped by gastroenteritis just days before the Vuelta started.

An enfeebled Porte struggled as the pace turned up in the final hour of racing Sunday under strong winds and temperatures above 90F. He became unstuck along with BMC Racing teammate and overnight leader Rohan Dennis. Both lost 13:31.

“I never once said that I was here for GC. It was in the press. It was never what I said,” Porte told VeloNews. “The heat adds another dimension.”

“To leave? I hope not,” he continued. “It’s the best preparation for the worlds, isn’t it? It’s all good. I will take it day by day. It’s easy to say you want to attack in the third week. It’s a hard race and you’ve still got to recover from these stages.”

Nibali also saw early Vuelta struggles and the Italian ceded 4:04 as the elastic snapped in the later part of the stage.

Like Porte, Nibali crashed out of the Tour and committed to the Vuelta knowing he would not be at his best. With one eye on the worlds, Nibali, also like Porte, was not surprised to struggle under the heat and high pace set by Team Sky and Movistar to reel in the day’s main breakaway.

“It’s normal that [Nibali] struggled a bit after missing so much racing,” said Bahrain-Merida teammate Ion Izagirre, who slotted into fifth overall. “This is going to be a very hard Vuelta. That’s for sure. And it’s just starting.”

Other riders who also downplayed their GC chances before the start who lost the tether Sunday included Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) at 1:15 back and Richard Carapaz (Movistar), fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia, at 1:48 back.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) was caught up in a crash and struggled to keep pace, losing 1:01 to the leaders. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) also lost 13:31, but brother Simon finished near the leaders at just 8 seconds adrift.

Rigoberto Urán (EF-Drapac), another rider coming off a heavy Tour injury, finished near the front in eighth at three seconds back in what’s an encouraging sign for the 2017 Tour runner-up.

“Today was good for me and for the team,” Urán said at the line. “I feel good. It wasn’t a pure climb today, but this Vuelta is all about making it day by day.”

With heat like this, that hyped pre-Vuelta GC list of favorites is going to melt faster than a snowman in August.