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Analysis: Vuelta a España’s first selection came early

Traditionally, the Vuelta serves up its first test at the end of the opening week. This year, the selection came on the opening road stage.

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ALICANTE, Spain (VN) — The first selection at the 2019 Vuelta a España came fast and furious.

The Vuelta’s first day of road racing proved costly for several big names, who all but lost any chance of winning the season’s third grand tour. Part of that was by design, but it also revealed just how biting the Vuelta’s second stage turned out to be.

Seeing Nairo Quintana win the stage into Calpe told the story of just how hard the stage turned out to be.

“Nairo is very strong, and the stage was very hard,” said Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde. “You could see people suffering on the climb, and we wanted to press the advantage.”

The pinch came on the second-category Alto de Puig Llorença, coming at the sharp end of the stage with about 25km to go. Anyone who thought it was going to be a bunch sprint was in for a shock.

Movistar was moving early, putting world champion Valverde on the march. Stinging attacks stretched out the GC group, sending riders such as Wout Poels and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) out the back.

The Ineos pair eventually ceded nearly 10 minutes, a blow that quickly transformed the Vuelta into a stage-hunting affair for the British powerhouse. David de la Cruz limited his losses, but even he gave up nearly two minutes.

“Our top guys couldn’t follow,” said Ineos sport director Nicolas Portal. “Only David could try to minimize the loss, but we cannot be happy with this time loss on the stage.”

Once the elastic snapped over the climb, the fight was on at the nose of the action. With the top teams knotted up from Saturday’s opening team time trial, the red leader’s jersey was also in play.

There was blood in the water, earlier than anyone could have expected.

Additional accelerations from Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) once over the top of the climb on uneven and technical terrain forced the day’s elite selection. Only Quintana, eventual leader Nicholas Roche (Sunweb), Ribogerto Urán (EF Education First), a revived Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) and Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) could follow.

The climb and the chase made for some scintillating action right from the gun in a Vuelta that’s missing a few marquee names, but is perhaps more wide-open as a result.

Sunday was a bitter lost opportunity for overnight leader Miguel Ángel López, who was isolated in a chase group without Astana teammates. Jakob Fuglsang, a late starter who came to help out where he could, was also among the day’s GC victims.

López, however, shrugged off the losses — he finished in the first chase group at 37 seconds back — and said the skirmish is just the first of many.

“I managed to answer the attacks [on the climb], but on the descent, I just missed a bit the decisive move,” López said. “I lost the jersey, but I don’t think what happened today was extraordinary. I was the front on the climb. We are [only] at the start of the Vuelta.”

The Vuelta’s first major selection typically comes at the end of the first week. Instead of a death by a thousand cuts, the majority of the peloton fell on its collective GC sword Sunday.

None of the five-star favorites lost so much time it would be fatal to their GC hopes, but the wedge between them and any outsiders seems permanent. Team Ineos is all but eliminated as a GC factor.

Only 18 riders finished within 37 seconds of Quintana. More than 80 riders finished more than nine minutes in arrears.

This Vuelta is barely out of the gates, and a lot is going to happen between here and Madrid, but the list of contenders is smaller than anyone could have expected barely 48 hours into the race.

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