Double champion and leading favourite Denis Menchov's dismal start to the Tour of Spain continued on Monday when he lost one minute 23 seconds to the other contenders on a seemingly straightforward stage.
Accustomed to punishing his rivals on major mountain passes in the Alps and Pyrenees, the Russian lost contact with his main rivals on the gentle 4.8 kilometre climb of La Santa towards the end of the third stage.
The Geox rider's sports director Joxean Fernandez said Menchov, who was third in 2010 Tour de France and a top-10 finisher in this year's Giro d'Italia, had no illness concerns that might be causing him to have a rough ride in Spain.
"It's a bit of everything -- average form, he was a bit too far back on the climb and then he had a problem with his saddle just when the bunch split," Fernandez told Reuters.
"He chased hard on the descent but by then it was too late."
Coupled with his losses after Geox's poor performance in the opening team time trial on Saturday, where they finished second last, Menchov is now 75th, four minutes and one second down on Monday's stage winner Pablo Lastras of Spain.
The Russian veteran is also trailing two minutes and two seconds overall behind the other top contender, 2010 Tour of Spain winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
Other big names who suffered on Monday's exceptionally hot stage were double Tour de France runner-up Andreas Kloeden of Germany, who finished 12 minutes and 19 seconds down, and British sprinter Mark Cavendish.
"If you look at all the guys who had a rough time with the weather today, you'll see they're all northern Europeans," Cavendish's team manager Jens Zemke told Reuters.
"Physically, he's fine but if you're from the Isle of Man like Mark where it's about 20 degrees cooler than here in August, you're always going to suffer in this heat."