Euskaltel will have to regroup and stake out new goals after team captain Samuel Sánchez, barring a miracle, lost all chances of a top overall placing on the first day in the high mountains of Italy.
And the warning signs came early on the 167-kilometre stage from Cordenons to the summit of the cat.1-ranked Altopiano de Montasio.
'Samu' lost contact already on the penultimate climb, the Passo Cason de Lanza, and, while some trademark descending brought him back up to the lead group in time for the last ascent, his general classification ambitions were already hanging by a thread.
He was quickly shelled out the back when the road tilted upwards again, as Vincenzo Nibali stamped his authority on the race by placing third and padding his overall lead.
Sánchez, riding within himself to limit his losses, came in 26th on the stage a full 4:22 down on winner Rigoberto Urán of Team Sky, and thus tumbled to 18th overall.
The 35-year-old didn't talk to the press afterwards, but his team manager did.
"Today, our chances of fighting for the general classification were reduced quite a bit", Igor González de Galdeano said. "It was a goal for the whole team, but there's nothing you can do when the legs aren't there. But we've still got a big say in this race. I'm pleased with the team. Today we were out of it - it was impossible.
"We'll continue to fight, though. Our goal of winning a stage is still intact and we'll give our all to reach that objective. Two weeks of hard racing remains and we've got to pick ourselves up. There's still a lot for us to do in this race. We prepared for this race carefully, in detail. It was a big goal and, though our podium chances have taken a big hit, the hope of winning a stage is still very much alive. I expect a lot of this team", he concluded.
Galdeano gives little away as to why Sánchez, for once, seems to be off-colour when the team is relying on him. The same can be said of the usually reliable Egoi Martínez and Gorka Verdugo: strong climbers who've been pale shadows of their former selves thus far in Italy.
The same can be said of a number of the team's biggest riders throughout this season, prompting the inevitable question as to what the riders were doing in the off-season.
While Galdeano has publicly criticized some of his charges for simply not riding their bikes enough and keeping their weight in check, some have speculated in the media that the new training regime put in place by Iñigo Mujika over the winter is the source of the problem.
Whatever the reasons for these subdued first four months of the 2013 season, Sánchez et al. for sure won't go down without a fight in the year's first Grand Tour.
Watch this space.
- (1, Rigoberto Urán (Sky), 4:37:42)
- 26, Samuel Sánchez, 4:22
- 42, Egoi Martínez, 9:46
- 43, Gorka Verdugo, 10:32
- 54, Robert Vrecer, 14:51
- 69, Jorge Azanza, 20:53
- 98, Ricardo Mestre, s.t.
- 159, Miguel Mínguez, 28:33
- 161, Ioannis Tamouridis, 28:33