Chris Froome (Ineos Grenadiers) lost contact with the GC contenders twice on the opening stage of the Vuelta a España, first on the penultimate climb of the Alto de Elgeta, and then again on the final slog to the finish at Arrate.
While the two-time Vuelta winner lost over 11 minutes to stage winner Primož Roglič (Jumbo Visma) and a handful of the Slovenian’s rivals, Froome was happy to be back in a Grand Tour after over two years of absence from a discipline he came to dominate for several years.
The 35-year-old’s hiatus from three-week racing came after his career-threatening crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné last June. Since then the comeback trail has been long and arduous and he missed out on a Tour de France spot this summer.
He will leave Ineos for Israel Start-Up Nation at the end of the year, but while he has yet to put in a performance in line with his previous best, the Vuelta experience appears to be about building towards 2021.
“For me personally, I got a bit caught out coming into the penultimate climb and started pretty far back and was stuck behind the crash but I’m really happy to be here and to be racing a Grand Tour again after two years of not doing any Grand Tours,” Froome said after the opening stage.
“I’m just going to take the race day-by-day and try and do as much for the team throughout the race.”
The four-time Tour de France winner admitted that he was still not at his previous best but that he would use the Vuelta to try and improve. Along with consistency and strong teamwork he will also want to prove - perhaps more to himself - that he can compete with the best in the mountains. A tilt at a stage win would be the perfect tonic at this point.
“My sensations are good but I’m still missing a bit of that top-end from not having raced much but it’s definitely an improvement and I hope to keep building later into the race.”
Froome is well aware that his reputation doesn’t come with a free pass at the Vuelta. Ahead of the race he told reporters that he would work for Ineos’ leader Richard Carapaz, who finished second on the stage after he limited his losses to Roglič on the final climb to just a single second.
Froome may not have provided Carapaz with assistance on the opening stage when Ineos set a furious tempo on the final two climbs but his experience off the bike will be an asset over the coming weeks, and if his form improves then he could be just as important on the bike too.
“It was a great day for us with Richard coming second. He’s right up there in GC and he’s our team leader here. We’re going to be helping him as much as possible throughout the race to try and get us the overall victory."