Vuelta a España: Stage 5 review

Stage 5: Logroño to Logroño, 168.0km

John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) powered past Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) with apparent ease to take his second sprint victory in this year’s Vuelta. Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) rounded out the podium. Degenkolb now takes over the points jersey from yesterday’s stage winner Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) while Joaquim Rodriguez finished safely in the pack to retain the leader’s red jersey.

Finish of stage 5: Not even close!

Andalucia’s Javier Chacon, who was in a break on Sunday’s stage – also won by Degenkolb – set off in the first few metres of the stage all on his lonesome. The peloton were happy to leave him out to dry in the hot sunshine. Very quickly his lead went out to 12 minutes at which point Degenkolb’s Argonauts started to apply some pressure and, within just 10km, the gap was back below ten minutes and, with assistance from other teams including Caja Rural – anxious to share the limelight – they slowly reeled him back in with under 30km remaining. The pace then increased with teams jostling for supremacy and position but there was so much movement in the bunch that 1988 Vuelta winner Sean Kelly was moved to remark that they were “all over the shop”. [That’s a technical term, I assume? – Ed]

For the first 10km of the last lap, Omega Pharma-Quick Step drove the pace, presumably for Gert Steegmans, but it was a case of too much too soon. They were then swamped by a variety of teams, including those of the first three finishers who managed to keep their form and position to drop off their sprinters a couple of hundred metres from the finish line. Here’s an interview with today’s stage winner:

VeloVoices rider of the day

Javier Chacon (image courtesy of Andalucia)

It has to be 27-year old neo-pro Javier Chacon, who spent pretty much the entire stage out on his own with only his team car for company fortified by ice packs on the neck, copious bidons and even the odd can of Coke. [Other carbonated soft drink brands are available … Ed.]

He’s more noted for his time-trialling ability, winning the under-23 Spanish national title back in 2006. He has a modest palmares that includes a win this year in a stage of the Tour of Azerbaijan. Not unnaturally he was voted most combative rider of the day and earned plenty of valuable airtime for his sponsor.

Observations

After two eventful stages, today the peloton found itself riding eight times around a relatively flat 21km cicuit of Logrono in the heart of Rioja country. You may recall that Monday’s stage finished just up the road in Viana while yesterday’s stage started close by at the Faustino V bodega – these wine boys have money to burn.

The Spanish are inordinately fond of circuits although they’re generally hillier. Everyone watches the riders pass by and then they retreat into the nearest bar, of which there are many, to await the peloton’s return. There was a good crowd in the centre of town, most of them wisely spectating from the shady side of the road.

Tactical analysis

Today’s stage afforded the contenders a bit of a rest after two eventful days. Only the points jersey changed hands. There were no incidents –  although there was plenty of further discussion of yesterday’s incident – nothing worthy of any comment, apart from Degenkolb’s win. A bit of a snooze-fest all round.

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

Clasica San Sebastian 2012 podium l to r Gerrans, Sanchez and Meersman

Clasica San Sebastian review

Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) timed his escape to perfection on the second descent of the Alto de Arkale and time-trialled the final ten kilometres to solo across the line and record his second victory in three years in the Clasica San Sebastian. His seventh win of arguably his best season and some consolation for his bad karma in the London Olympics. He dedicated the win, as always, to his deceased brother. LuisLe also picked up the points prize and was adjudged the classiest rider. Fitting given how good he looks in the large black floppy Basque beret sported by the winner.

The thundering herd, seven seconds down, were led home by Milan-San Remo winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) who rounded out the podium. Adrian Palomares (Andalucia) won the sprint prize, Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) won the mountains prize (presented by Miguel Indurain), Igor Anton was best placed Basque and Gorka Izagirre adjudged most combative rider (both Euskaltel-Euskadi). Most sympathetic rider was Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Rabobank won the team prize and Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) was given a special prize for six consecutive race appearances. [They’re making this up as they go along, right? – Ed]

Clasica San Sebastian 2012 podium l to r Gerrans, Sanchez and Meersman

Clasica San Sebastian 2012 podium (l to r) Gerrans, Sanchez and Meersman (image courtesy of Suzi Goetze)

At the post-race press conference, everyone’s favourite Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) announced that the Clasica had indeed been his last competitive race. He was hanging up his cleats for good this time but had wanted to ride this year to thank his family and friends for their support after his terrible 2011 Tour de France crash and to leave the professional peloton on a high. I think an Olympic gold medal’s a pretty good high!

Flurries of attacks

The sun was shining, the spectators gave everyone a rapturous reception in anticipation of a day of exciting racing and they weren’t disappointed. The riding in the first hour was pretty fast and furious  – 45.2kph – fuelled possibly by the enthusiastic support from the road-side or more probably from the desire of many to get into the day’s break. The first one after 8km containing, among others, local boys Xabier Zandio (Sky), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank) and Markel Irizar (RadioShack-Nissan) was pegged back, allowing David De La Fuente (Caja Rural) and Nairo Quintano (Movistar) to join them. This grouping fell foul of the peloton and was pulled back after 19km on the first climb, the Alto de Orio.

Quintano and Zandio gave it another go, to be joined by Adrian Palomares (Andalucia), Jose Sarmiento (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) over the day’s second classified climb, Alto de Garate. The duo of Palomares and Aramendia pushed on alone and they quickly built a lead of almost 11:45 before Katusha took charge of the peloton and started to reel them back in.

Quintana, Sarmiento and Palomares

Quintana, Sarmiento and Palomares (image courtesy of Suzi Goetze)

Other teams lent a helping hand and by the fourth hour of racing under a scorching sun the average speed was well below 40kph. The duo were taken back on the first ascent of the Alto de Jaizkibel, thickly thronged with fanatical Basque fans. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) broke free of the bunch with future teammate Quintana (Movistar). They were quickly joined by Vacansoleil’s Tomasz Marczynski, but again they couldn’t make it stick. Next to try was Tiziano Dall’Antonio (Liquigas-Cannondale). Marczynski went with him but they were denied by Astana while Movistar neutralised the next move from Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Sergio Paulihno (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).

Defining race moves

In truth, no breaks were properly established until Marczynski and teammate Rafa Valls (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Sergio Henao (Sky) escaped over the top of the Alto de Jaizkibel for the second time with under 40km remaining. Henao then attacked on his own at the summit of the Alto de Arkale but Joaquim Rodriguez and his Katusha team went on the offensive, pulling most of the leading contenders with him. What remained of the peloton caught this group on the descent and it was then that Sanchez, who’d been marking all the moves, saw his opportunity and seized it with both hands while teammate Bauke Mollema hindered the chase.

Peloton on the Jaizkibel Arkale circuit

Peloton on the Jaizkibel Arkale circuit (image courtesy of Suzi Goetze)

With Sanchez in full-on time trial mode, he maintained a stable advantage – never much more than ten seconds, but never much less either – while the chasers looked to each other. By the finish his margin of victory was sufficient to allow him to celebrate well before crossing the line to the accolades of the crowd, while behind him Gerrans won the bunch sprint for the honour of taking the second step on the podium. It was certainly a popular win.

Closing thoughts

While neither Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) nor Chris Froome (Sky) participated in the race, it would be fair to say that their key teammates and their leading contenders for the Vuelta crown are in fine fettle. Indeed all the teams will be heading over to Pamplona this evening for the preliminaries, including Friday’s team presentation. Let battle commence.

What happened to Sammy? He was atypically low-key at the start, making it quite clear that Anton was their protected rider. Work done, he rode back into town before the final circuit. But there’s also good news in that he’s re-signed with the Basque team for a further three years.

Race result

1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) 5:55:34

2. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:07

3. Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) same time

4. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Sharo) s/t

5. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t

6. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) s/t

7. Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t

8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t

9. Xavier Florencio (Katusha) s/t

10. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

All images courtesy of Susi Goetze who we’ll be chatting to in our VeloEye Friday Feature.

Links: Behind the barricades: images from the startPreviewOfficial website

Paris-Nice mid-race review

After Paris-Nice’s queen stage today (Thursday), we’re more than mid-way through the Race to the Sun. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins has a firm grip on the leader’s jersey which he assumed at the end of stage two, due partly to his excellent result in the previous day’s time trial but also to his and his team’s astute riding. It was on this stage that a large number of GC contenders saw their chances literally blown away by the fierce crosswinds which provoked large gaps in the peloton. Indeed, after only two days of racing the most likely contenders for the overall numbered four: Wiggins, the stealth-like Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), BMC’s young gun-slinger Tejay Van Garderen and Alejandro – watch out he’s back and he’s behind you – Valverde (Movistar).

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