By Gregor Brown
Team Dimension Data is losing riders nearly every day in the Vuelta a España, but vows to fight in the coming two weeks for a stage win with its remaining five.
The team lost its Eritrean climber Merhawi Kudus due to a crash and cut ankle in Friday's stage on the roads to Cuenca. His loss adds to another other three who have left the race after suffering with illness.
"We are trying to keep our heads up and stay positive because we have a strong team and we came into the Vuelta with high hopes," Sports Director Bingen Fernández told Cycling Weekly.
"We began this race with a climbers team aimed at the many mountain stages. We are down to five but we are going to fight for his stage win. We are going to mark our stages and go for it."
Ben King first abandoned in stage three, Youcef Reguigui in stage five and Nick Dougall in stage six. A virus may have ripped through the team that lives and travels in close quarters.
"We are trying to find out what's going on," added Fernández. "Ben is going to have a blood test today and Nick is going to go home today and will have a blood test. We are trying to get more information and be more accurate and trying to prevent this."
Kudus chased the eventual winner and placed second in the uphill stage five finish Santa Lucía in Alcossebre. In today's stage seven, he fell with around 96 kilometres to race along with others including US Champion Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport). Warbasse pulled out with a likely broken bone in his wrist.
"The problem was that he had a big cut on his ankle and it was bleeding a lot. The race doctor was afraid to let him go because with the high heart rate there is a risk that he would lose too much blood. They recommended that he stop and go to the hospital to get some stitches."
>>> Who’s out of the 2017 Vuelta a España after stage seven?
Fernández can look at the positives and negatives for the South African WorldTour team that includes Mark Cavendish as part of its 31-man roster. He can only count on five remaining riders in the Vuelta, but 14 chances remain. Perhaps one can prevail as Omar Fraile did in the Giro d'Italia's stage to Bagno di Romagna or Edvald Boasson Hagen in the Tour de France's stage to Salon-de-Provence.
"Igor Antón, Omar Fraile and Serge Pauwels have been pros for many years and know that these things happen, and are going to keep going and try to do their best," Fernández continued.
"A success would be a stage win. If we could get that then we would have a win in each grand tour this year and that would be a successful season."
"It is sad to lose Merhawi and the other guys this week," Antón added, "but our team fight every day for Qhubeka so we still chase a top result."
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