It was another hot day. Alberto Contador had sponges in the back of his jersey to keep cool and everyone is looking browner and browner with each day as their cyclist’s tans are coming along nicely. There was a four-man breakaway almost from the start of the stage – Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Frantisek Rabon (OPQS), Pablo Lechuga (Andalucia) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) – and they worked up to a maximum lead of five minutes before being reeled in inside 20km.
A crash in the middle of the peloton occurred at 9km, holding up a number of riders, but none of the main GC contenders. Sky rode on the front at a fierce pace as they took to the motor racing circuit for the sprint finish. However, they pushed it too hard too soon for Ben Swift, even splitting the peloton until the Argonauts made their move in the last kilometre and green jersey John Degenkolb powered to the line for a hat-trick of victories, taking the stage ahead of Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEDGE).
VeloVoices rider of the day
It’s got to be the Argonaut of the moment, John Degenkolb. His team are riding brilliantly, keeping him out of trouble and letting others set the pace and use up their men on the run-in, before the Argonaut Express kicks it into gear and leads their man out.
The Vuelta’s never been a sprinter’s race and perhaps there was the thought that, because the big-name sprinters went elsewhere to race this August, the flat stages might not have the gusto of the Giro or the Tour. But Degenkolb has lit up these stages. It just goes to show: it’s always the riders who make the race.
Although none of the main GC contenders were involved in the crash near the end of the stage, Rigoberto Uran (Sky) punctured and dropped from fourth to 15th. A shame for him as, considering how well Sky have been riding, he could well have finished in the top five in Madrid, bettering his seventh-place finish at the Giro.
It didn’t help that the real attention of the media was several thousand miles away with the tearing down of Lance Armstrong, but the appearance of cyclists on a sparsely attended motor racing track is always a bit odd, and lent an eerie atmosphere to the closing kilometres. I’ve seen school sports days with bigger crowds and vacuums with more atmosphere. Just sayin’.
Not much to talk about, really. Yesterday we highlighted the possibility that Katusha might be happy to let a break go to engineer a handover of the red jersey, but Argos-Shimano‘s willingness to work on the front of the peloton ensured there would be no surprise winner today. The same thought applies again tomorrow, though. With no sprint teams wanting to force the pace ahead of a summit finish, we could well see a successful breakaway as the contenders worry more about each other than about a stage victory. Watch out for David Moncoutie and other King of the Mountains hopefuls to make a move tomorrow.
VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.