Vuelta a España: Stage 10 review

Stage 10: Ponteareas to Sanxenxo, 190.0km

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.

Image courtesy of Argos-Shimano

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.

Observations

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.

Tactical analysis

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.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España: Stage 10 preview

Stag10: Ponteareas to Sanxenxo, 190.0km

Except for a cheeky wee Cat 3 climb near the beginning of the stage, this is as flat as it’s going to get for the sprinters. The boys roll along the coast for much of the stage so you know what that means: possible crosswinds. And you know what that means: possible echelons. Movistar … I’d pay attention if I were you! If the crosswinds do play a factor today, the stage winner could come from the breakaway. However, if the peloton is together by the end of this stage, it’s going to be another bunch sprints. And you know what that means: Argonaut time, as John Degenkolb looks to continue his domination of the quick men.

What can we say about the finish itself? It’s a bit up and down – the final 1.5km of it a gentle incline, hardly enough to cause any difficulties. And the approach to the line looks relatively uncomplicated aside from a little left-right flick in the final couple of hundred metres. With the wind likely to be coming off the sea to their right, look for everyone to be looking to hug the left side of the road to try to get shelter from any crosswind.

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website

Vuelta a España: Postcards from Spain

We might all be back at VeloVoices Towers (with Panache ensconced in the Washington Peloton Pentagon), but two of our VeloEyes have kindly sent us pictures mainly from the last few stages which illustrate the advice Susi Goetze gave us in her VeloEye interview about where best to take photos at a race. Enjoy!

The morning sign-in is generally the easiest place to take photos of the riders. Unless you’re tall, get there early and be first in line against the barriers. The riders tend to file up in dribs and drabs. Although some will be clad ready for the day’s race, many are often helmetless, making identification so much easier and photos so much better. They’ll frequently stop to chat to the press, give autographs or  have their pictures taken with many of the waiting youngsters, thereby enthusing the next generation of riders.

Last year’s winner Juan Jose Cobo being interviewed at the sign-on by Juan Mari (image courtesy of RDW)

Valverde’s white wrist-watch has a Union Jack face. A memento of London 2012 perhaps?

Alejandro Valverde at sign-on (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Alberto Contador sharing a joke with Juan Mari (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

The enigmatic Denis Menchov making his way to the start (image courtesy of RDW)

Maxime Monfort, who complained fans kept confusing him with Basque team mate Markel Irizar (image courtesy of RDW)

Julian Dean doesn’t look too happy, does he? (image courtesy of RDW)

Daniele Bennati making his way to the start (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Of course, nowhere’s out of bounds to Susi. Here she makes a quick visit to see the Argonauts on their bus. We have to say it’s not quite as plush as the Sky one.

Scary Argonaut tan lines (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Argonauts keeping cool before the start in their ice packed vests (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

You may recall that Alejandro Valverde fell on one of the early stages in the Vuelta while wearing the red leader’s jersey and no one waited. The guy that came off worst in the crash was teammate Imanol Erviti, who’s still bearing the effects several days later. What you can’t see from the photograph is his heavily bandaged left leg and right arm.

Bearing his injuries with fortitude – Imanol Erviti (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Once the riders have been called to the start, there’s still 10-15 minutes of hanging about – another great photo opportunity. The boys usually take the time to catch up with their compatriots on other teams. They look so serious. Do you think these three were discussing the overnight news about [Lance] Armstrong?

Juan Antonio Flecha, Purito and Alejandro Valverde catching up on peloton gossip before the start (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Photographers need to keep their eyes peeled at all times for photo opportunities. Susi’s particularly adept at finding humourous situations.

Looks like Tony Martin’s jersey’s way too short, have OPQS run out of his size? (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

I think we know who he’s supporting! (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

The food zone’s another good spot for taking photos as the riders are forced to slow down to pick up their lunch. It’s also a great place to collect souvenirs – bidons and musettes – but you need to be fleet of foot to beat the waiting hordes of kids.

Alberto Contador in the feedzone (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Alternatively, find a spot on an incline where the crowds aren’t too thick and the riders are arriving in two, threes or even on their own.

Here’s a bunch of Movistar riders making their way up an incline (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Igor Anton giving it his best shot (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Purito leaving the rest for dust (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Frankly without accreditation it’s difficult to get these types of shots at the finish line. But it’s still worth a go.

John Degenkolb has dominated the sprint finishes (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Finally a win in 2012 for PhilGil (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

A better photo opportunity might be the podium or just past the finish line but again, unless you’re tall,  you’ll need to get in situ early.

An exhausted Jan Bakelants after the finish (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Alejandro Valverde heading to the podium (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Purito with his two children on the podium (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

To conclude, don’t forget to take a few shots of your wonderful surroundings to remind you where you were. Bike races visit some beautiful parts of the world.

Barcelona (courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Alto de Montjuic (image courtesy of Susi Goetze)

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website