Bradley Wiggins' first full stage in the red jersey as leader of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana on Thursday was marked by a tricky bunch sprint at the end of a hard day's racing.
As Wiggins pointed out as he rode towards the team bus in Pontevedra after the finish, the stage was anything but flat, and the draggy uphill sprint was just the sort of terrain where the bunch would split.
After unofficial times made it clear there had been some splits on the short rise to the finishing straight, but not exactly what they were, an hour later it was finally announced that the front group of 15 [containing Swedish rival Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana)] had gained four seconds on Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), with Wiggins, Chris Froome (Sky) and all the other main contenders at five.
"The guys looked after me perfectly, I was sat behind (Sky team-mate) Dario [Cioni] most of the day, and Ian [Stannard] is brilliant at stuff like that, placing himself," Wiggins told Cycling Weekly.
"I was sixth wheel a lot of the time, because further down the pack, you'd risk getting swamped."
Asked if they had worked for Chris Sutton, Sky's sprint winner of stage two, Wiggins said "we did and we didn't."
"We can't chase everything, and we thought if it came back to a sprint Chris would have a go."
"But it certainly wasn't going to be at the expense of riding all day on the front."
Overall, Wiggins said it was looking good.
"I'm confident, I'm back in shape, I was a bit ring rusty on those really steep climbs [early in the race] but in the last couple of mountain days I've felt a lot more comfortable."
"But I don't want to get too excited. I've learned that. I'm taking it on the day by day."
Certainly the next three days will be a big test for Wiggins, kicking off with two first category climbs, one of them the notorious Puerto de Ancares - with several segments at more than 12 percent - mid-way through a short (158 kms) but punishing stage on Friday.
The last climb, though, a third category, is more than 40 kilometres from the finish, so it could even end up with a small group sprint.
Saturday and Sunday, though, are full-on mountain top finishes, with the Angliru - by far the toughest single ascent in Spain and if it rains, as is forecast, then even tougher - as the climb that could decide the entire race.
Vuelta a Espana 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.
Iconic Puy de Dôme climb moves one step closer to a 2023 Tour de France appearance, reports suggest
Nearby stage start plus hotel bookings suggest we could see the volcano on the Tour route in 2023
By James Shrubsall • Published
These cyclists' pain face pictures perfectly capture how brutal hill climb races really are
You can't cycle up 20% gradients with a straight face
By Tom Davidson • Published