John Degenkolb seized his fourth stage victory in a hotly contested, messy bunch sprint, holding off Michael Matthews and Fabian Cancellara to consolidate his lead in the points competition. The main contenders enjoyed a quiet day in the bunch and there were no changes at the top of the GC or any of.the other major classifications.
Today the peloton read and followed the script. The day’s early five-man break slipped off the front after 20km but was never allowed to build too great an advantage by the sprinters’ teams which controlled the front of the bunch. Once again, members of the break were feeling feisty. Anyone who wasn’t pulling their weight felt the sharp end of Rohan Dennis’ (BMC) tongue. Physical blows weren’t traded, just harsh words. He spared no one.
Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural) was the first to fall out of the quintet shortly followed by Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), leaving a trio to tackle the technical finale over a lumpy parcours which included cobbles. Dennis deserted Elia Favelli (Lampre-Merida) and Bob Jungels (Trek), the latter adjudged the day’s most combative rider, with 1.5km remaining and made his doomed bid for glory.
But the hounds had the hare within sight and, despite most of the sprinters losing key members of their trains on the run in, the usual suspects lined up for their just rewards. The break was subsumed by the surge for the line and the green jersey of Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), powered by raw strength, forced its way to the front and across the line ahead of Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Cancellara (Trek).
After the finish the winner said:
It looked easy but it really wasn’t today. We had to work really hard for it, harder than the other days. We did everything for a sprint today and it turned out to be the right decision. It’s the fourth victory from strong teamwork, and everybody can see that the spirit is very good in our team.
Preparation for Ponferrada
With the notable exception of last year, the winner of the men’s World Championships road race has typically ridden the Vuelta in preparation for taking the rainbow jersey. This year’s no exception as the classics type parcours favours a number of riders who are clearly finding their best form in this race.
First up is quadruple stage winner Degenkolb, who’ll have a very strong German team riding in support. Then there’s Nacer Bouhanni but he may well have to share leadership with French national champion and FDJ teammate Arnaud Demare.
Look who finished third today. Fabian Cancellara has made no secret of his desire to add the road race rainbow jersey to his four time trial ones. He’s in fine form and, as an added precaution, won’t compete in the individual time trial on the Thursday before the road race.
Of course, they’re not the only contenders in fine fettle. It’s been great to see former world champion Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) mixing it in the sprints. He’s looking lean and mean. Likewise 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC). The pair will form a formidable Belgian double-header in Ponferrada.
Last but not least, let’s not forget Peter Sagan (Cannondale). He’s clearly still far from his best, and he’ll have far less support from his small Slovakian team, but ignore him at your peril..
VeloVoices rider of the day
I loved Rohan Dennis’ dogged persistence and constant hectoring of the rest of the break. The 24-year-old Aussie was a mid-season transfer to BMC, a silver medallist in the Commonwealth Games time trial and finished as runner-up to Sir Bradley Wiggins at the Tour of California.
Stage 17 result
1. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) 4:26:07
2. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time
3. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) s/t
4. Jesper Stuyven (Trek) s/t
5. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) s/t
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 67:51:07
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:36
3. Chris Froome (Sky) +1:39
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:29
5. Fabio Aru (Astana) +3:38
6. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +6:17
7. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +6:43
8. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) +6:55
9. Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) +8:37
10. Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) +9:12
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Katusha.