Dropped with nearly 60 kilometres to go on Monday’s stage three of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) battled through some of the hottest weather conditions the Vuelta has seen in years to finish 170th in a group of around 30 riders.
Temperatures soared to over 40 degrees on Monday’s exposed, dry inland terrain, but the riders still averaged over 41 kilometres despite the scorching heat.
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“He’s fine,” HTC-Highroad’s Jens Zemke said, “but this heat has really taken it out of a lot of riders.”
“If you look at the classification you’ll see it’s mainly northern Europeans who’ve had problems with the weather.”
“A guy like Mark, who’s from the Isle of Man, is used to temperatures about 20 degrees lower at this time of year.”
“We’re convinced he’ll come through later in the race to get that stage win he wants.”
Cavendish was far from being the only rider in trouble on Monday’s seemingly straightforward stage: Denis Menchov (Geox) is supposed to be a major contender, but lost nearly 90 seconds and will start Tuesday’s crucial stage on Sierra Nevada more than two minutes down on leading favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).
His team blamed a mechanical incident – his saddle came loose – as well as average form and slightly poor positioning for his getting dropped on the last climb of the day.
However, Geox have had a miserable start to the Vuelta in general, finishing second last in the opening team time trial, and with Menchov threatening to slide out of the running after three stages.
Others who unexpectedly lost contact on Monday’s stage included Andrey Kashechkin (Astana), the 2006 Vuelta podium finisher who ended the day in the same group as Menchov, and Peter Sagan (Liquigas) who ended up over seven minutes down.
None of them fared as badly as RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden, though, who lost over 12 minutes – and if such a relatively straightforward stage caused such problems, then who knows what kind of damage Tuesday’s stage on Sierra Nevada will do.
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Vuelta a Espana 2011
: Stage reports
Vuelta a Espana 2011: TV guide