The two-time Spanish grand tour winner was gapped on the closing climbs in Tuesday’s explosive first stage and lost more than 11 minutes on GC. It was hardly the opening salvo Froome — racing in his final race in an Ineos Grenadiers jersey — was hoping for.
“I got a bit caught out coming into the penultimate climb, and started pretty far back, and I got stuck behind that crash,” Froome said after finishing 72nd at 11:12 back. “It was a great day for us with Richie coming second, he’s right up there still in GC. He’s our team leader and we’re going to be helping him as much as we can to try to get us the victory overall.”
Ineos Grenadiers teammate Richard Carapaz finished second, and it became obvious early in the stage who the team was riding for. Froome was trailing off the back as the main GC group powered up a third-category climb with about 18km to go. He almost regained contact, but eventually lost the wheel on the explosive first-category summit finish.
Ineos Grenadiers rallied around Carapaz, and the 2019 Giro d’Italia winner didn’t disappoint, darting across the line second to stage-winner and new leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
“We had a good start,” Carapaz said. “The team was right at the front on the last few climbs, pulling, setting the pace, and the team did a great job. We were right there to try to win the stage, so I’m very happy with all the work everyone did today. It’s a good start for us, and there are some more decisive stages coming up. We’re motivated and we’re hoping tomorrow works out just as well for us.”
The TV cameras followed Froome as he slipped off the back of the bunch. Froome, still recovering from his devastating crash in June 2019, vows to keep pushing on. Just being in the Vuelta is a victory of sorts for Froome, who hasn’t raced a grand tour since finishing third in the 2018 Tour de France.
“I’m really happy to be here and happy to be racing a grand tour again after not racing any grand tour for two years,” Froome said. “I’ll take it day by day, and try to do as much as I can to help the team for the rest of the race.”
The 35-year-old came into the Vuelta after being left off Ineos Grenadiers squad at the Tour de France. Following some middle-of-the-pack performances this summer, Froome was quietly optimistic he could be closer to the leaders here at the Vuelta.
Tuesday’s explosive stage finale proved too fast for him to stay on the race-leading wheels. Froome is hoping that story changes before the Vuelta is over.
“The sensations are good,” Froome said. “I miss a bit of the top-end from not having raced much, but it’s definitely an improvement, and I hope to keep building throughout the race.”
For Froome, who used to be at the front of the race to win, making it all the way to Madrid would be an important milestone.