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by Shane Stokes
August 31, 2014
Taking a somewhat meandering route to the line, Nacer Bouhanni nonetheless emerged as the winner of stage eight of the Vuelta a España on Saturday in Albacete. The FDJ sprinter jumped early, catching out Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and green jersey wearer John Degenkolb (Giant Shimano), and opening a gap of two lengths on stage three winner Michael Matthews.
The Orica GreenEdge rider closed on him all the way to the line, but a dramatic leftwards veer caused the Australian to have to change course and stop sprinting. Despite this, he opted not to lodge a protest and the result stood.
The victory is the second of the race for Bouhanni, who also triumphed on stage two in San Fernando.
“Everyone wanted to be on the front during the splits in the wind,” the 24 year old said, according to Eurosport. “My team-mate Geoffroy Soupe kept me safe but I was scared I’d be left behind.
“I decided to go early in the final sprint, which made it hard, but I had good legs. Two wins is a good return so far – especially seeing that I was close to abandoning two days ago.”
The stage was marked by wide open roads and strong crosswinds, and these two factors plus an injection of pace combined to lead to echelons and splits in the peloton. Several big names were caught in the second of the groups, including Degenkolb, his Giant-Shimano team-mate Warren Barguil, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin, but these managed to rejoin close to the end.
The effort expended did however mean that Degenkolb didn’t have his usual level of support in the sprint, and he was consequently badly placed when the sprint started.
Also caught out was Tom Boonen, who had seen his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team work hard to try to set him up for the gallop but who was only ninth at the line. Sagan and Degenkolb were closest to the Bouhanni-Matthews tussle, with Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) fifth and Robert Wagner (Belkin Pro Cycling) sixth.
Race leader Alejandro Valverde rolled across the line 22nd out of the 54 man lead group, preserving his grip on the red jersey.
He remains 15 seconds ahead of his team-mate Quintana, while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Chris Froome (Sky) stay third and fourth, 18 and 20 seconds back respectively.
Sunday’s ninth stage looks more likely to provoke changes in the general classification. It takes the riders to the summit finish of Aramón Valdelinares, and should see a series of attacks.
Stage eight of the Vuelta a España was seen by many as one for the sprinters, particularly as it was bereft of any categorised climbs and featured flat or rolling roads. It was however wind-exposed, and the possibility existed that echelons would do what the climbs would not, and provoke splits.
The 207 kilometre stage started in Baeza and travelled to Albacete, passing through two intermediate sprints en route. They were Alcaraz at kilometre 127.4 and El Jardin, which was situated at kilometre 154.
Early on Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) got a gap and with the former being over 16 minutes off the red jersey of Alejandro Valverde, the move was deemed of no threat. The Italian-Spanish duo quickly opened a lead of over seven minutes by the 30 kilometre point, but this was pushed down to six minutes by a number of chasing teams, including Garmin-Sharp, Giant-Shimano and FDJ.
This gap remained relatively steady, but by the time Favilli took the first intermediate sprint, it had dropped to just under four minutes. Aramendia was second there, while points jersey leader John Degenkolb grabbed third from the peloton.
The leading duo kept pushing on but their advantage was under two minutes by the time they reached the second sprint, where Favilli was once again first to the prime. Behind, Tinkoff Saxo rider Sergio Paulinho took third place and the single point up for grabs.
It was more and more evident that the break would be caught and the junction was finally made with 40 kilometres to go. The Sky team of Chris Froome drove the pace, ramping up the speed before Tinkoff Saxo, Trek Factory Racing and Belkin also hit the front.
With former world champion Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) driving the pace and sidewinds battering the riders, echelons started to form and the peloton blew apart.
A partial regrouping followed but the BMC Racing Team exerted more pressure and further rifts occurred. The rider in second place overall, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was caught out and distanced in the second group on the road, as were many others including Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), John Degenkolb and his Giant-Shimano team-mate Warren Barguil.
The gap was 15 seconds with seven kilometres remaining, but hard chasing by Giant-Shimano earned their group a reprieve and it joined those out front with just over four kilometres remaining.
The Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Orica GreenEdge teams were active in driving the pace prior to the sprint and tried to get their fastmen Boonen and Michael Matthews in place. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was also prominent, but Nacer Bouhanni caught everyone napping when he jumped early and got a gap.
Matthews was the only one able to really respond to the FDJ sprinter and gradually closed in on him, but the line was drawing closer and closer. He moved to Bouhanni’s left and tried to get by him, but the Frenchman made a sudden swerve to the left, causing Matthews to have to stop pedalling and to lose any chance of winning.
It seemed possible that he would protest but he elected not to do so, thus ensuring the result would stand. Sagan took third ahead of Degenkolb, while Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol) and Robert Wagner (Belkin Pro Cycling) rounded out the top six.
Race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished safely in the bunch as did the other general classification riders. This maintained the status quo prior to Sunday’s big mountain top finish, a climb which will likely reshuffle the GC once again.