French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni notched up his second win of La Vuelta after a day of echelon drama took its toll on John Degenkolb. The race was split apart by crosswinds, bringing a select group to Albacete to fight out a somewhat controversial sprint finish, which saw the FDJ man narrowly edge out a surging Michael Matthews.
Everybody has their cross(winds) to bear
Today’s route took the riders into exposed territory and they looked edgy as they approached the final 60km. All the GC teams were present on the front, maintaining a high pace, intent on not being caught out by a split.
That inevitable split came with around 25km to go, and left a large leading group containing all the key movers and shakers, but the real drama happened when that group split again. With just a dozen or so kilometers left to race, BMC cranked up a ferocious pace which fractured the lead group, and stage favourite Degenkolb, found himself on the wrong side of the split. The German had been showing good form despite his crash yesterday and had been active in the intermediate sprints. Although the stragglers managed to reattach to the charging bunch, the efforts of the chase took their toll on and played into the hands of his rivals.
1,000 metres of drama
The final kilometre began with a right-hand bend into an 800m straight which kicked up towards the end, and with no discernible lead-out trains present, a frenetic sprint kicked off from some way out. Degenkolb was in the mix, along with a sprightly looking Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, Tom Boonen, Greg Henderson and Bouhanni. The Frenchman went early, breaking first to the right with Matthews on his wheel. With fans hammering the boards, it was all elbows and teeth, blood and thunder. Sensing Bouhanni fading on the final rise to the line, Matthews came round and was kicking for the win, but Bouhanni had just enough left in the legs to hold on.
It’s not unusual to see a bit of controversy in a sprint finale, and today’s was no different. Bouhanni won’t have won any friends today, using the whole road to his advantage and then shutting Matthews out with a wild swerve which came close to wiping them both out on the line. It was the sort of manoeuvre which has been known to get riders disqualified, but on this occasion the result stood and the Frenchman took the stage.
VeloVoices rider of the day
It’s not an easy task to settle on one rider today, but I’m going to give my nod to John Degenkolb. Despite the effects of yesterday’s crash, he was animated throughout the race, taking the first intermediate sprint, maintaining his lead in the points competition.
This was a stage that he was hotly tipped to win, and it was evident that both Orica-GreenEDGE and BMC wanted him out of the way as they worked to detach him from the lead group. Degenkolb never gives up though, and his fight back to the main bunch and determined sprint to fourth place shows what a class act he is.
Stage 8 result
1. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) 4:29:00
2. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time
3. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s/t
4. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) s/t
5 Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 31:21:20
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:15
3. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:18
4. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:20
5. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:41
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:45
7. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +0:55
8. Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:58
9. Warren Barguil (Gian-Shimano) +1:02
10. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +1:06
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejando Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Belkin.