In case anyone needed reminding, Argos-Shimano’s John Degenkolb helpfully held up four fingers as he crossed the finish line in celebration of his fourth sprint victory at this year’s Vuelta. The German started his charge more than 300 metres out, but sustained enough speed to hold off all challengers with ease.
Adrian Palomares (Andalucia) and Javier Armendia (Caja Rural) set off up the road immediately the starting flag was dropped and pulled out an advantage of 6½ minutes before the peloton, led first by Argos-Shimano and later supported by Orica-GreenEDGE, swallowed them up with 33km to go.
After the catch, GreenEDGE continued to drive the pace hard in an attempt to force a selection on the coastal roads, but the hoped-for crosswinds never materialised. RadioShack-Nissan took up the pace from Sky and Vacansoleil 1.5km out, looking to set up Daniele Bennati. But with the ever reliable Koen de Kort as his pilot fish, it was the green jersey-clad Degenkolb who launched a long sprint for home, with FDJ-BigMat’s Nacer Bouhanni locked on his wheel. But the French national champion did not have the power to come around and had to settle for second-best by a full bike length. Bennati was well beaten in third.
VeloVoices rider of the day
If the old saying that behind every great man is a great woman is true, then it is equally so in cycling that in front of every great sprinter is a great lead-out man – equally important, but equally unseen to many. Andre Greipel’s hatful of wins this year have owed a lot to the tireless efforts of Greg Henderson, while Mark Cavendish benefitted from Mark Renshaw’s eye for an opening for many years. For John Degenkolb here, read Koen de Kort.
The Dutchman is not a household name even in his own country. In eight years as a pro he has recorded just two wins, the last in 2009. This season he has only a pair of third places to show for countless thousands of kilometres. He turns 30 on the penultimate day of the Vuelta, and will spend his birthday dragging his weary body up the Bola del Mundo just so he can once again lead Degenkolb out the following afternoon in Madrid.
He may not have a glittering palmares, but Argos-Shimano and Degenkolb will recognise and appreciate de Kort’s value. Today, with RadioShack controlling the peloton in the final kilometre, he hauled his team leader up through the pack and deposited him on Bennati’s wheel – the perfect position from which to launch his winning sprint. The humble lead-out man is often forgotten in the glory of victory. Not today, Koen. Chapeau.
It’s always a shame to see a defending champion in distress, but I doubt anyone would have been shocked to see Movistar’s Juan Jose Cobo falling out of the back of the peloton today, unable to cope with the high pace of the closing kilometres. He finished 2:40 down to drop to 31st overall, 9:56 back. And unlike Cadel Evans at the Tour, he won’t even have the luxury of being able to throw in a few attacking flourishes, as he will be detailed to support Alejandro Valverde for the duration of the race. Cycling can be a cruel mistress.
A flat stage following a rest day and ahead of an individual time trial and a tough uphill finish was never going to be a recipe for excitement, and sure enough that was the case today, with no significant moves in the GC or any of the other jersey competitions.
It was always going to be a sprint, and the fact that the day’s breakaway only featured two men – both from ‘home’ wild-card teams – was testament to a lack of enthusiasm for burning up energy unnecessarily. An average speed of 38kph for the first four hours – a veritable crawl for a flat stage – illustrated the fact that the peloton were (comparatively speaking) enjoying a second rest day in all but name.
The one thing that could have livened things up near the finish would have been crosswinds blowing in off the coast in the latter stages. Credit to Orica-GreenEDGE for driving the pace up to 55kph in the final 20-30km, in an attempt to force echelons and put Degenkolb out of the picture. But the wind remained as resolutely calm as the majority of the stage, and their effort came to nothing.
Even though today’s one-length margin was the largest of his four wins, Degenkolb’s combination of power, timing and a well-drilled team is proving too much for his rivals. Sky’s Ben Swift, who was expected to be the German’s main sprint rival pre-race, looked laboured in finishing ninth and, without the full support of his team, appears lost and out of touch. And none of the other key sprinters – Bouhanni, Bennati, Allan Davis (GreenEDGE) and Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) – have managed more than a single second place each. But, despite his dominance, Degenkolb heads the points classification by just 18 points ahead of overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez, with a raft of mountain stages to come. He may have to win every possible sprint stage all the way to Madrid to secure the green jersey – and even that may not be enough. The points competition will most likely form a compelling subtext for the final week, and could well go down to the wire.
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