Vattenfall Cyclassics review

When he turns 21 next Sunday, FDJ-BigMat’s Arnaud Demare will reflect back on the early present he gave himself at today’s 17th Vattenfall Cyclassics as the moment he broke into the big time. In becoming the first French winner – and youngest overall – of the German one-day race, the reigning under-23 road race world champion belied his tender age, outfoxing several of the biggest names in sprinting in the hurly-burly of an uncontrolled bunch finish.

A lethargic start

On a scorching hot afternoon in and around German’s second-largest city of Hamburg, with the mercury nudging close to 40ºC, it was perhaps unsurprising that for 190 of the race’s 245.9km the peloton’s tempo resembled that of a Sunday afternoon club ride rather than a WorldTour race. Nonetheless, danger is never far away in professional cycling, with Orica-GreenEDGE losing not one but three riders in crashes: veteran Stuart O’Grady broke four ribs and a collarbone, Daryl Impey also broke ribs and Jens Keukeleire required stitches after sustaining a thigh injury.

The day’s obligatory breakaway comprised three men – Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Nissan), Andreas Dietziker (NetApp) and Gregor Gazvoda (AG2R La Mondiale) – and pulled out a lead of 7½ minutes before the slumbering peloton – driven by Sky, working for defending champion Edvald Boasson Hagen – finally awoke from their slumber and started to reel them in. With a little under 60km to go, BMC’s Marco Pinotti initiated what would become a seven-man attack, catching and passing the original break. They established an advantage of around 30 seconds, lighting the blue touch-paper underneath the pack, who were forced to up the pace significantly to pull them back.

Attack, attack, attack

They were finally brought to heel at the base of the third of four ascents of the Waseberg hill with 29km left, setting the scene for a frantic final 35 minutes or so of racing. The peloton fractured over the summit of the 800-metre, 8.9% climb (which features sections of 15%) as first Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked, and then a dangerous group of about a dozen riders including Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) moved off the front.

Demare claimed his biggest win so far, a week shy of his 21st birthday (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

In the short hiatus before the final climb up the Waseberg a number of exploratory attacks – notably Boonen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Sep Vanmarcke – were tried, all unsuccessful. At the foot of the climb Sagan suffered an inopportune mechanical, requiring a tiring chase back that effectively ended his victory hopes, while Lampre-ISD tried to up the pace. But the decisive move came from the unheralded Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Nissan), who jumped away over the summit and built an advantage of close to 30 seconds on the main pack, with various chase groups splintering off in between.

It was a brave attack, but one always destined for failure. The Waseberg is a steep climb, but not long enough to do sufficient damage to really enable a solo attacker or small group to build a race-winning advantage. With a downhill/flat run of nearly 15km to the finish, it requires a large group – such as the split of 30-odd riders which got away last year – to maintain any hard-earned advantage as the sprinters’ teams gather momentum. Despite an initial lack of organisation in the chase, Hermans was pulled back with 8km still to run, and after a couple of other counter-attacks the peloton was back together again by the 4km mark, ready to set up a bunch sprint – albeit a scrappy one in which no one team had sufficient numbers to control the run-in.

Under the 1km flag, Argos-Shimano, OPQS and FDJ – working for Tom Veelers, Tom Boonen and Demare respectively – jostled for supremacy. With Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel breathing down his neck, the young Frenchman positioned himself perfectly to pick up the wheel of Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw as he went for a long one. Demare overhauled him with ease and, despite the crowd urging on Greipel to take a home win, held his pace to the line to take victory by two bike lengths. RadioShack’s Giacomo Nizzolo took third, just ahead of the Belgian tricolore-clad Boonen and 2011 winner Boasson Hagen.

Closing thoughts

Greipel, who dominated the sprints over the first half of the season, will be disappointed to have missed out on victory in the only ‘home’ WorldTour event on the calendar. No German rider has won the race since Erik Zabel in 2001.

However, victory confirms Demare’s good form ahead of next month’s Road World Championships, as well as providing 80 valuable WorldTour points to leapfrog FDJ over their French rivals AG2R in the team rankings. They are still in the bottom three, however, and will likely require the discretion of the UCI to guarantee their place for 2013. Nonetheless, Demare’s victory is a welcome boost for the team to add to Thibaut Pinot and Pierrick Fedrigo‘s stage wins at the Tour de France last month. They will look for more good results over this season’s six remaining WorldTour events, starting with next Sunday’s GP Ouest-France. I wonder if the birthday boy will be allowed to sit that one out, though.

Race result

1. Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) 6:03:20

2. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) same time

3. Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

4. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

6. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) s/t

7. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

8. Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t

9. Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) s/t

10. Borut Bozic (Astana) s/t

Link: Official website

Vuelta a España: Stage 2 review

Stage 2: Pamplona to Viana, 181.4km

The boys were feeling hot, hot, hot as the temperature hit a rubber-melting 39ºC. An early break of Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia) were allowed to get a maximum lead of five minutes. Ignatiev took the honours on the two intermediate sprints while Chacon secured the first blue polka dot jersey of the race before dropping back to the peloton. The other two were caught at 12km. A last-ditch dig in the final 6km by Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM) didn’t get far and the boys lined up for a bunch sprint. Ben Swift (Sky) and Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE) were first to make the jump but John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) flew past and took the stage.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Stage winner Jonathan Degenkolb (image courtesy of Argos-Shimano)

John Degenkolb is my rider of the day. I’m a big fan of the Argonauts and, after a very disappointing Tour de France where their main man Marcel Kittel had to abandon due to illness, it’s good to see they’ve come into this Vuelta with a fighting spirit.


It’s hard to believe how hot it is out there – a top temperature of 39ºC today, the commissaires waived the 30km rule of not handing out bottles. There was a lot of talk about teams who may have hotels with no air conditioning. I wonder just how much impact the overheated conditions will have on some of the riders.

Tactical analysis

We got an early glimpse of how the competition between the sprinters – in the absence of most of the top men – may pan out over the next three weeks. Sky’s Ben Swift outgunned Degenkolb two stages to one at the recent Tour of Poland, but Sky are clearly intending to apply the same team strategy which won them the Tour: protect their GC rider (in this case Chris Froome) at all costs, and leave their sprinter to fend pretty much for himself. But whereas Mark Cavendish has the speed and nous to do just that, here Swift found himself on the front too early and was swallowed up in the final 100 metres. Orica-GreenEDGE have no such problems with their strong lead-out train, and in Allan Davis they possess a veteran fast-man who knows his way around a bunch sprint. Degenkolb exhibited a prodigious final burst here and, like Orica, Argos-Shimano’s focus is also on sprint wins. These three, plus perhaps RadioShack’s Daniele Bennati, FDJ-BigMat’s Nacer Bouhanni and Liquigas’ Elia Viviani, are likely to feature at the sharp end of most sprint finishes.

Although there are quite a few riders within ten seconds of the top spot, there was no change in the GC, with Movistar keeping both defending champion Juan Jose Cobo and race leader Jonathan Castroviejo out of danger. Javier Chacon‘s first polka dot jersey gives his team Andalucia some good press but with a mountain stage tomorrow, I suspect he’ll not keep it long. Degenkolb took the points jersey with his win today.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España: Stage 2 preview

Stage 2: Pamplona to Viana, 181.4km

The route planners decided to start the boys out gently. Yesterday’s short, sharp team time trial is followed by today’s rolling stage. There’s one Cat 3 climb – the Alto de la Chapela (6km at a leisurely 3.5% average) – in the middle of the stage, giving us the first King of the Mountains jersey of the race. Everyone should be together at the end on a straightforward run-in ready for a bunch sprint – the only hitches being the slight rise in the final kilometre, and peak temperatures which are forecast to hit 40ºC. [Ouch – Ed.]

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website