Don’t expect to be seeing Esteban Chaves racing again this year.
When Mitchelton-Scott confirmed he wouldn’t be racing the Vuelta a España, it left the door open just a crack that Chaves might race again this season.
Sport director Matt White all but ruled out more racing this season following the Colombian’s diagnosis of the Epstein-Barr virus.
“It’s highly unlikely Esteban will race again in 2018,” White said. “There is just no point in rushing him back and we’ll be taking a conservative approach in his recovery.”
After an up-and-down Giro d’Italia in May, Chaves was diagnosed with glandular fever and other ailments. After a long period of rest as well as minor sinus surgery, the Colombian only returned to training a few weeks ago.
“You can ruin people’s career by rushing a comeback,” White said in a telephone interview. “I highly doubt we’ll see him again this year.”
After overcoming a knee injury in early 2017 to make his Tour de France debut last year, Chaves had a rollercoaster ride during the Giro this spring. Just days after winning a mountain summit on Mount Etna and sitting second overall on GC, the Giro podium finisher abruptly tumbled out of contention.
“He went from second in the second week to riding in the gruppetto within just 48 hours,” White said. “It was a rough place in the second half of the Giro. We just couldn’t figure out why the wheels kept falling off.”
Chaves gamely fought on, but never recovered from the setback and finished 72nd overall.
Once the Giro was over, Chaves underwent a battery of clinical tests to try to figure out what might be wrong. Doctors finally discovered glandular fever and sinus and allergy problems.
Team staffers even wonder if Chaves might have had the virus during last year’s Vuelta a España, when he suffered a similar —though not quite as dramatic — fade toward the end of the Spanish grand tour. He went from being in podium range by the end of the second week to finishing 11th overall in Madrid.
“We don’t know when he got the virus. He got to the Vuelta in good shape and went halfway through in the top 10, and then the wheels fell off,” White said. “At the time we thought it was about a rushed preparation. We were not looking for a virus.”
Teams are wary of putting too much pressure on riders returning from the virus.
Spanish rider Beñat Intxausti has struggled with a similar virus over the past several seasons. In 2015, he won a stage in the Giro d’Italia and finished fourth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but his career has since gone off the rails. After joining Team Sky in 2016, Intxausti has struggled with mononucleosis as well. He raced 15 days in 2016 and three days in 2017. This year he’s raced five days, including a fifth-place finish in the recent Hammer Series in Norway.
Mark Cavendish, who has also seen a recent string of crashes, was diagnosed with the virus in 2017 and has struggled to return to his top speed in the sprints.
“You have to be very careful in the first six months. We are going to be very conservative,” White said. “If you rush it, you can ruin a rider’s career.”
With the success Chaves has had, the team certainly does not want to jeopardize one of its grand tour contenders with a rushed return to competition.
With Chaves sidelined, Mitchelton-Scott is tapping the Yates brothers for the Vuelta. Adam Yates is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing Tour de France performance, while Simon Yates would like to build off his breakout Giro in May when he won three stages and held the pink jersey for 13 stages before running out of gas in the closing days of the race.
White will be at the Vuelta, where ex-pro Julian Dean will make his debut as lead sport director in a grand tour for Mitchelton-Scott.