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by Shane Stokes
August 28, 2014
Repeating his victory of one day earlier, John Degenkolb tightened his grip on the green jersey when he sped to his second stage win of this year’s Vuelta a España on Wednesday.
The Giant-Shimano rider shrugged off the slightly uphill gradient to the line in Ronda, sweeping past former world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) and hurtling over the line. French stage two winner Nacer Bouhanni tried to pass Degenkolb on the inside, choosing to go on the right instead of to the left, and found himself hemmed between the German and the barriers.
He protested after the stage but the commissaires ruled that Degenkolb had not done anything wrong and let the result stand. Belkin’s Moreno Hofland was third, with Trek Factory Racing’s Jasper Stuyven fourth and Belkin’s Paul Martens fifth. Gilbert had to make do with seventh place and will rue jumping as early as he did.
Overnight leader Michael Matthews wasn’t to the fore in the sprint, crossing the line in 11th place, but he tightened his grip on the red jersey. He is now 13 seconds clear of Nairo Quintana, who – along with all those from thirteen seconds back – was caught on the wrong side of a five second split. Quintana’s Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde remains third but is now 20 seconds back.
Degenkolb said that his team made an important difference, both in helping GC rider Warren Barguil after he was stranded, and then in the finale. “The guys worked hard today when it split to bring Warren back up to the front and also Tobias pulled all day. Then was in the front split to keep us out of the wind until the climb.
“At the end we made the best out of the situation with just three of us. Warren put us in position but after Koen launched I had to improvise after nearly missing a corner. I lost the wheel and had to close the gap but luckily I was strong enough to still sprint.”
The stage featured a long distance break by Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick Step) and Lotto-Belisol’s Pim Ligthart. Martin had a mechanical issue and dropped out of the move, but Ligthart persisted until he was eventually reeled in inside the final 30 kilometres.
His chances of staying clear were ruined when the peloton behind split under the pressure of the Tinkoff Saxo team. Most of the general classification favourites made it into the first group, but Dan Martin had a tough chase to get across.
His Garmin-Sharp team-mate Ryder Hesjedal wasn’t able to do the same and ended up losing three minutes 19 seconds; a third rider from the team, Andrew Talansky, was three minutes 51 seconds back, thus handing outright team leadership to Martin.
Others to miss out on the split included Adam Yates (Orica GreenEdge), Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing), Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Cameron Meyer (Orica GreenEdge).
The race heads for the mountains Thursday with the first real summit finish of the race. Degenkolb said that the pressure is off, but that he and others want to help Barguil’s own campaign. The Frenchman took two stages last year and is keen to see how he can do this time round.
“The atmosphere is very relaxed now and it’s good, not just for mine, but also the team’s confidence.
“I’m looking forward now to helping Warren tomorrow and getting him in the best position for what will be a steep, hard finish. It will be role reversal, me getting bottles and ice for the guys.”
The fifth stage of this year’s Vuelta began in Priego de Cordoba and extended 180 kilometres to Ronda. The profile was lumpy, including a hill inside the first 20 kilometres, but there was just one categorised climb on the course. This was the third category Puerto El Saltillo, which peaked 15.2 kilometres from the finish.
The parcours also included two intermediate sprints, the first at Encinas Reales (km. 55) and the second at Campillos (km. 121.5).
It looked like a stage for a likely big sprint, but that didn’t deter two riders from clipping away in the opening kilometres. World time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick Step) is already known as having the engine to win Grand Tour stages, as he showed in this year’s Tour de France, and he was also joined by Lotto-Belisol’s Pim Ligthart.
The latter was Dutch road race champion in 2011 and this year won the mountains classification in Paris-Nice.
Working well together, they quickly built a lead of over three minutes but the gap was down to a minute and a half after 40 kilometres. Martin and Ligthart responded by ramping up their pace and ramped their gap up to two and a half minutes shortly before Ligthart took the first intermediate sprint.
Further back, Nacer Bouhanni took third out of the bunch, adding to his points total.
The peloton was led by the Frenchman’s FDJ team and was intent on keeping a tight rein on the break. With 70 kilometres covered it brought the gap down again near one and a half minutes, and it remained around this point for quite some time.
Ligthart and Martin didn’t get dissuaded and managed to swing the pendulum the other way once more, adding a minute to their advantage. However their cooperation was dashed when the world champion had a mechanical problem, being delayed and then picked up by the bunch.
The lone leader pressed on and took maximum points at the next intermediate sprint, that of Campillos (km. 121.5). Behind, there was a surprise surge by Chris Froome and his Sky team-mate Christian Knees, with the duo picking up second and third and the time bonuses there, then returning to the bunch.
The clock continued to tick and with 45 kilometres remaining Ligthart had just over a minute. Once again he rallied, adding 40 seconds to that total, but his chances of staying clear plummeted when Tinkoff Saxo put the hammer down 40 kilometres from the line and split the bunch.
Movistar also drove the pace, then Sky started to contribute. Ligthart was soon reeled in, while the second half of the bunch chased furiously to try to get back to the first part of the split. The Garmin-Sharp team was one of those most badly affected, although Dan Martin was able to bridge across the gap once they hit the third category climb of Puerto El Saltillo.
His team-mates Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky weren’t so fortunate and the group they were in started losing further time.
Mountains leader Luis Mas Bonet wanted to add to his points and pushed forward with his Caja Rural Seguros RGA team-mate Amets Txurruka near the summit. MTN Qhubeka’s Sergio Pardilla was feeling good and put in a dig, dropping Bonet; Txurruka responded by nabbing first at the line. Pardilla was second and Mas Bonet took the points for third.
Just 15.2 kilometres remained at that point and the sprinters’ teams floored it. They kept the speed high, preventing attacks, and then heading into the final two kilometres the BMC Racing Team drove the pace.
The American team was hoping to set up Philippe Gilbert, but he was prompted to jump too early in response to Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort. The latter was setting up Tuesday’s winner John Degenkolb, who swept through and blasted home for another stage win. Bouhanni lodged a protest, arguing that the German encroached on his space along by the barriers, but the judges ruled that this claim was invalid and the result stood.
Race leader Matthews wasn’t able to sprint for the win but picked up 11th place. More importantly, he was on the right side of a small split in the bunch and added five seconds to his advantage over Movistar duo Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde.