As what should have been a routine sprint turned into a chaotic free-for-all, Trek young gun Danny van Poppel put himself in the right place at the right time to claim his maiden grand tour stage while John Degenkolb, nine times a Vuelta winner, was left banging his handlebars in frustration as he found himself boxed in again after his team had set the pace for much of the stage.
The day’s five-man breakaway, which included stage seven winner Bert-Jan Lindeman, initially appeared to offer little more than the obligatory rabbit for the sprinting greyhounds to chase down. But as the kilometres ticked down and the Giant-Alpecin train began to run out of steam, the pendulum swung back towards the escapees. The gap remained at 43 seconds with 7km remaining, then 32 seconds at 5km. Inside the final 1.5km, MTN-Qhubeka’s Jaco Venter and Etixx-Quick Step’s Maxime Bouet jumped clear.
But it wasn’t to be. As panic seized the chasing peloton, the pair’s advantage melted away like ice cream under a hot summer sun and they were engulfed by the pack just 300 metres from the line. It was every man for himself and van Poppel surged forward at just the right moment to hold off Orica-GreenEDGE’s Daryl Impey by a bike length, with Lotto Soudal’s Tosh Van der Sande third.
Degenkolb, isolated from his exhausted teammates, found himself too far back, was consequently boxed in and was never able to fully open up the throttle as he crossed the line a disconsolate fifth. That tenth Vuelta win – and his first in this year’s race – remains elusive.
Rider of the day
An easy call today. As if a maiden grand tour win in a chaotic bunch sprint wasn’t impressive enough, 22-year-old Danny van Poppel achieved the feat in spite of having to stop for a wheel change with 12km to go. It helped that the peloton wasn’t exactly going full-chat in its pursuit of the breakaway – if other sprint teams had taken a more active role, it might have been very different – but take nothing away from the young Dutchman. He chased back on, composed himself, then managed his road position in the final more wisely than his more experienced rivals around him.
Van Poppel is still finding his way as a pro, with his most notable prior results a couple of stages and the points jersey at the Tour de Wallonie earlier this season and a third place on the opening stage of the 2013 Tour de France, when he was still 19. Keep an eye out for him in the future – there aren’t too many 22-year-olds who can put ‘grand tour stage winner’ on their palmares.
Following on from Jasper Stuyven’s win on stage eight, that’s now two wins for a Trek team missing Fabian Cancellara and whose GC leader Frank Schleck lies a mediocre 24th and has been spotted less often over the 12 stages to date than Lord Lucan. Not bad, considering.
As a footnote, Danny’s elder brother Boy van Poppel is currently 174th and last in the general classification.
Three things we noticed
1. Why keep your powder dry? This wasn’t a thrill-a-minute spectacle by any means but the ongoing chess game, particularly in the last 20km, was fascinating for those with a keen interest in race tactics, as Giant-Alpecin were hung out to dry in driving the pursuit of the breakaway with assistance only really coming from Trek. Ordinarily, Giant might have expected help from Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE, who would have retained an interest on behalf of Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan. But Tinkoff are too busy dodging motos in Sagan’s absence and a Ewan-less Orica, despite Impey’s second place here, are now focussed on protecting Esteban Chaves.
This ought to have given teams such as Lampre-Merida, Lotto Soudal and BMC, none of whom have serious top ten GC aspirations, an incentive to help the struggling Giant train in the closing kilometres to promote the chances of Maximilano Richeze, Tosh Van der Sande and J P Drucker respectively. But all three were notable by their absence from the sharp end of the peloton until very late in the day, as both gambled on Giant (and to a lesser extent Trek) succeeding in the chase but at the expense of burning themselves out in the process.
As it turned out, they were right – but only just. The break was caught but with only 300 metres left, and only then after a chaotic scramble which put paid to any team organising a proper lead-out. Van der Sande was third, Drucker sixth and Richeze a distant 12th. One wonders what might have been had the chase had a little more manpower and organisation. A classic case of second-tier sprint teams being too focussed on defeating a superior enemy (Giant-Alpecin) at the expense of actually creating a race-winning position for themselves. A major chance missed.
2. Let battle commence. This was most likely the last chance for the sprinters until the finale in Madrid a week on Sunday, and while tomorrow’s stage is unlikely to have much bearing on the GC it is the prelude to the most arduous section of this Vuelta: three consecutive summit finishes leading into the rest day and then a 38.7km individual time trial coming out of it. Hang in there. Things are about to get very interesting.
3. Are there any sprinters in the house? The sprint field was pretty thin at the start of this Vuelta and, with stage winners Sagan, Ewan and Jasper Stuyven already gone, the fast men are looking increasingly like a species in need of protected status. With the points jersey already all but a mathematical impossibility, and eight stages and a lot of high mountains between them and the distant speck on the horizon that is the finish in Madrid, how many will take the start tomorrow? Or will we see a mass exodus for the beaches? John Degenkolb will certainly hope so – he’s probably a little weary of being beaten by so many different opponents by now.
Stage 12 result
1. Danny van Poppel (Trek) 4:02:11
2. Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time
3. Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) s/t
4. Nikolas Maes (Etixx-Quick Step) s/t
5. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) s/t
1. Fabio Aru (Astana) 47:14:30
2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:27
3. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) +0:30
4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +1:28
5. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:29
6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:52
7. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +1:54
8. Mikel Nieve (Sky) +1:58
9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3:07
10. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) +4:15
Points leader: Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE)
King of the Mountains leader: Omar Fraile (Caja Rural)
Combined classification leader: Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)
Team classification leader: Sky.
Link: Official race website