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by Shane Stokes
August 25, 2014
Replicating the Grand Tour stage-winning form and confidence he showed when taking three victories in the Giro d’Italia, Nacer Bouhanni blasted home into San Fernando to win the first Vuelta a España stage of his career.
The 24 year old FDJ.fr rider was led out perfectly by his team and opened a gap on the other riders when he jumped. He powered in ahead of Giant Shimano’s John Degenkolb, who closed slightly before the line but ran out of ground, plus Lampre-Merida’s Roberto Ferrari.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing), Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural) and Oscar Gatto (Cannondale) filled the remainder of the places in the top six.
“We worked very hard for this,” said Bouhanni shortly after his triumph. “In the last moment we were in a great position. It was a great day for not only me but also my team.”
The Vuelta a España has a high number of mountain stages and, consequently, there are not many chances for the sprinters. Bouhanni knows that he must make the most of the opportunities which come his way.
“You have got to take your chances when you can. To get a stage win in the in the Vuelta is great. Each time I get a chance I will take it; maybe I can win more, we will see. And maybe I will set myself the goal of the points jersey.”
Overnight race leader Jonathan Castroviejo handed over the red jersey to his team-mate Alejandro Valverde, who had crossed the line second at the end of yesterday’s team time trial. The deposed leader slips to fourth due to the order of positions across the finish line; Nairo Quintana and Andrey Amador move up to second and third.
Earlier, Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas, Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka) pushed clear in a six man move.
Haas and Conti pushed ahead on the day’s sole categorised climb, crossing the summit in that order, and then dropped back to the bunch. The other four persisted and opened up a lead of over five minutes. Despite this advantage, they were hauled back inside the final 20 kilometres and the bunch sprint ensued.
Valverde said that he was surprised to take over at the top. “To be honest, it wasn’t on the plan that I took the leader’s jersey. But the finish was really nervous and difficult and we had to ride up-front, trying not to lose any time into splits or crashes. I hadn’t even realized I had become the GC leader: I had to come back from the team bus, because I had already left for it.
“It’s always nice to take the leader’s jersey and I’m happy about this, but I would be even more should any other team-mate don it. It’s great to be ahead of other rivals, but this is not really important for the Vuelta’s final outcome. We will see how everything goes, and if it’s reasonable for us to fight and keep it. There’s quite a decent climb tomorrow, almost 1.5km, and we will have to stay attentive, but it’s just the same as today: you can never relax, otherwise you might lose time.”
In contrast to Saturday’s team time trial, Sunday’s second stage of the Vuelta a España was a more typical road race, with the riders set to fight it out over 174.4 kilometres from Algeciras to San Fernando. The profile was almost completely flat, although the third category Alto del Cabrito reared up soon after the start and summited 10.2 kilometres after the drop of the flag.
There were also a couple of uncategorised lumps prior to half-distanced, but from that point the only points of notice on the course were two intermediate sprints.
Race leader after the team time trial was Jonathan Castroviejo, who led his Movistar team across the line at the end of the 12.6 kilometre test. He was consequently wearing the red jersey at the start of stage two, although with several others from the team also on the same time, it was far from certain if he would be wearing it at the end.
It was also possible that other riders could take over, even if the Movistar squad did enjoy a buffer of six seconds over closest rivals Cannondale.
That thought was an extra incentive to breakaway riders and very soon after the drop of the flag, six riders pushed clear. They were Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas, Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka).
They collaborated well together to very quickly open a gap of over two minutes; Haas and Sbaragli then pushed forward on the day’s sole categorised mountain climb, with Haas first to the summit and ensuring a day in the mountains jersey on Monday.
The duo were caught by the four other riders, and decided to sit up and go back to the peloton. Conti, Aramendia, Janse Van Rensburg and Hardy continued onwards and increased their lead to almost four minutes after 40 kilomeres of racing.
Past halfway distance, the peloton finally eased back some more and the lead went out further to five minutes. Van Rensburg took top points ahead of Conti and Aramendia at the first intermediate sprint, that of Conil de la Frontera (km 94.4), then Conti beat Hardy in the second, that of Puerto Real (km 132.5).
The riders had just 41.9 kilometres remaining at that point and this prompted the peloton to accelerate. The gap at that point was just over two minutes and it had dropped to just 21 seconds with 25 kilometres to go. The move was finally neutralised with 17 kilometres remaining.
With 8.4 kilometres to go Cannondale briefly moved to the front, seeking to put their fastman Peter Sagan in prime position for a stage win. Chris Froome’s Sky team was also prominent, as were IAM and MTN-Qhubeka. Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff Saxo squad then pushed to the front with three kilometres to go, trying to keep the Spaniard out of trouble.
The sprinters’ teams were even more motivated, though, and they clawed their way to the front and led the riders into the final kilometre. FDJ pushed forward to try to set Nacer Bouhanni up and the Frenchman then timed his jump perfectly, powering home first ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant Shimano), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) plus the rest of the bunch.
Alejandro Valverde raced in 21st and with team-mate Castroviejo back in 98th place, this ensured that he took over in the red jersey. He will hold the race lead heading into Monday’s third stage, a lumpier 197.8 kilometre race from Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera.
The stage includes four category three ascents plus a short, steep rise to the line; it may end in a group finish, but the gradient means a powerful, punchy rider should triumph rather than a pure sprinter. That gives Valverde a chance to chase the stage, but many other riders also have the uphill oomph to go for victory, and a good fight-out is guaranteed.