The smiling Colombian said he is happy with his TT performance
Esteban Chaves said “it is beautiful to be back racing” at the Volta a Valenciana after an eight month absence due to illness.
The 29-year-old took to the road for the first time in 2019 in the opening time trial, securing a respectable 36th place.
Mitchelton-Scott rider Chaves was diagnosed with mononucleosis ahead of the Vuelta a España last season, having not raced since the Giro d’Italia in June.
The Colombian won stage six of the Giro to Mount Etna and was sitting on the podium until stage 10, when he dramatically fell out of contention.
After undergoing numerous tests and minor surgery for a chronic sinus problem, Chaves was finally diagnosed with mononucleosis.
Speaking after his return in Spain, Chaves said: “It was a really good day.
“It’s beautiful to be back to racing, not just the effort but everything else – being with the team, the fans, the guys from other teams.
“It was awesome.”
Chaves finished 36 seconds down on stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), who took the leader’s jersey at the end of the 10.2km test around Orihuela.
Chaves added: “I think it was a good way to start but it is just that, the start.
“We have many days in front and a long way to go, but it was a good effort and I’m obviously happy with the result, especially for a TT.”
After the diagnosis, his team announced in August that Chaves would not race the Vuelta a España, which was won by team-mate Simon Yates.
He returned to training in August, with Mitchelton-Scott doctor Manuel Rodriguez saying his progress and symptoms would be closely monitored.
Epstein-Barr virus is a common virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever.
Chaves’ British team-mate Adam Yates is also riding the week-long stage race in Spain – he finished 43rd in the opening TT at 41 seconds down in Boasson Hagen.
Australian Jack Haig was the strongest Mitchelton-Scott rider on the day, finishing in 14th at 23 seconds.
The 25-year-old said: “It’s quite a pleasant surprise.
“I took the mindset that I had nothing to lose so I went really hard on the flat section and if I blew up on the climb then I blew up.
“Once I got to the climb I actually was a bit cautious at the beginning, but then it wasn’t super long so I just went full to finish at the top hard.”
Volta a Valenciana continues with a 166km loop starting and finishing in Alicante on stage two.