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Race favourites Alberto Contador and Chris Froome are each coming to terms with an opening stage which may have cost them their chances of fighting for the final Volta a Catalunya victory, with both riders missing out on a crucial break which gained considerable time.
Polish rider Maciej Paterski (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) shrugged off the effort he put in to finish a fine 22nd in Sunday’s Milan-San Remo, while Frenchman Pierre Rolland (Europcar) finished on the same time. Belgium’s Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Soudal) was the third member of the break and finished two seconds back.
The main peloton was at one point thirteen minutes down and while it chased hard towards the end of the stage, was still two minutes 40 seconds back.
Given that Paterski won the Tour of Norway last season and also took the King of the Mountains prize in the Tour of Poland, it is not guaranteed that he can be overhauled by Contador, Froome and the other contenders.
Ditto for Rolland, who has finished eighth and tenth overall in the Tour de France, taken the best young rider award and also clocked up two stages.
As for De Clercq, he is also a strong rider and took a stage in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.
Contador acknowledged that a big mistake had been made by the main bunch.
“The peloton was pulling hard, really hard, in an unbelievable way,” he said. “It was indeed surprising that the gap wasn’t narrowing at all. At the end, we gave all we had and managed to bring the gap down.
“However, given the stages we have ahead, that difference isn’t a joke at all. We will now have to take every day as it comes.”
He said that the situation was complicated by the strength of the three riders concerned.
“It’s true they are first-rate riders and they will manage the 2 minute 40 second advantage that they have in the best way possible. We will now see what opportunities the parcours will offer us but it is true that it isn’t an ideal situation.”
At the time of writing Sky hadn’t issued a detailed reaction. However Froome indicated his frustration via Twitter.
“Confusing day out on the road today, accurate time gaps would have been helpful…live & learn.”
He beat Contador to win his first race of the season, the Vuelta a Andalucia/Ruta del Sol, but was forced to miss his planned participation in Tirreno-Adriatico due to illness.
He’ll now have to try to recoup the time lost in the days ahead while also not doing to much and thus handing an advantage to Contador or any of the other contenders.
According to Trek Factory Racing director Alain Gallopin, a lack of communication over race radio was partially to blame. If substantiated, it casts the race organisation in a bad light.
“I think what we saw today was an example of modern cycling because in the past a situation like that wouldn’t have happened,” he stated. “There was also a problem with the organisation of the race. They announced a gap of six minutes but in reality it was 13 minutes, which surprised everybody.
“With a stage like today with a lot of uphills and downhills, it was difficult to close that gap. We can close a gap in the uphills, but not in the long downhills. I think that also played into their win.”
He also said that a lack of communication between the squads was also a factor. “I also think that the teams don’t talk together as they used to,” he stated.
Contador’s directeur sportif Steven de Jongh accepted that Tinkoff-Saxo had delayed in pulling at the front.
“It’s not always up to us to lead the peloton and there are teams with very strong lineups such as Sky,” he stated. “It wasn’t until the first category climb, where Sky and Movistar started to pull that the time gap decreased. Then we decided to give them a hand and joined the chase with 25km to go.”
That decision to delay the effort may ultimately be the difference between winning and losing for the peloton, although neither Contador nor De Jongh have thrown in the towel yet.
They will be both be fully aware that a metaphorical uphill has been added to the literal peaks the Volta a Catalunya already had on its parcours.
The WorldTour race continues Tuesday with a 191.8 kilometre race from Mataro to Olot. A bunch sprint is the most likely outcome, meaning the first chance to reduce the breakaway’s advantage will be limited.
Gallopin, for one, isn’t giving up all hope. “Letting guys such as Rolland or De Clercq have such a large gap on the GC is probably not a good idea. For us nothing changes.
“We still have ambition on the GC with Haimar [Zubledia] and Riccardo [Zoidl]. The race has just begun.”