Sprint victory earns Degenkolb fourth stage win, reinforces hold on green jersey

by Shane Stokes

John Degenkolb clocked up his fourth stage victory of this year’s Vuelta a España at the end of stage 17 on Wednesday, blasting into A Coruña a bike length ahead of Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).

The Giant Shimano rider’s success lines him up for a possible repeat of his five stage wins of two years ago; it also tightens his grip on the green jersey of points leader and makes it possible he will win in outright on Sunday.

Degenkolb’s victory came at the end of a mainly flat 190.7 kilometre race from Ortigueira, which provided the riders with a respite from the categorised climbs which have terrorised the sprinters in recent days.

Inevitably, the stage was marked by a breakaway, with five riders going clear early on and building a maximum lead of just under four minutes.

Four of that quintet remained out front with 20 kilometres to go and together Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team), Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN Qhubeka) fought to stay clear.

The latter was dropped inside the final ten kilometres then, just before the bunch reeled the move in, Dennis and Favilli jumped clear inside the final two kilometres. Their bid was brave but futile; they were hauled back very soon afterwards, setting things up for a bunch sprint and Degenkolb’s fourth win of the race.

“I feel very good. I enjoyed it today,” he said afterwards. “We’ve worked hard for this victory. We’ve controlled all day and brought it to a bunch sprint at the end. It was worth it. We knew the finale. We rode it yesterday as our hotel was very close, but it was really not easy. It was also kind of a poker game. There were still riders ahead of me 500 metres before the line. I could sprint from 200 metres to go. I followed my instinct.”

How it played out:

The action resumed at the Vuelta a España Wednesday with a mainly flat 190.7 kilometre race from Ortigueira to A Coruña. Lacking any categorised climbs, it included intermediate sprints at Pontedeume (km 78.2) and Arteixo (km. 171.9).

There were a flurry of attacks after the start but nothing initially stuck. Just after 20 kilometres Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) and Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) got a gap, then Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida), Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN Qhubeka) and Lluis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros) bridged across, making it five out front.

Their gap was one minute 20 seconds with 29 kilometres covered, then increased to three minutes by kilometre 43. Giant-Shimano was setting the pace in anticipation of a possible sprint victory by John Degenkolb but wasn’t too worried; it allowed the gap to rise to three minutes, although it tagged it back to two minutes 15 seconds by the first intermediate sprint.

There Dennis beat Favilli and Jungels for the points. The break’s advantage inched upwards again and extended to three minutes 40 seconds by kilometre 105. Nine kilometre later it hit the maximum lead of three minutes 50 seconds, but started to fall again when Orica-GreenEdge and Omega Pharma-QuickStep started to ride.

With 30 kilometres remaining the quintet had two and a half minutes, prompting an increase in pace. Mas Bonet had nothing more to give and slipped backwards; the other four pressed onwards to the second sprint at Arteixo, where Teklehaimanot led Jungels, Dennis and Favilli over the line.

Just under 19 kilometres remained at that point and with their lead down to one minute 44 seconds, the leaders knew that it was touch and go whether the would stay away.

Dennis was determined that the others kept doing their share and urged the break on, admonishing Teklehaimanot when he missed some turns. The Australian was not happy with the cooperation and attacked just inside the final ten kilometres, at which time the bunch was just 51 seconds back.

He was tracked by Jungels, while behind the Giant Shimano team were continuing to chase.

The attack didn’t work and the four leaders came back together. Jungels then jumped with 9.2 kilometres remaining and shed Teklehaimanot, making it three in front.

Behind, Johan Le Bon (FDJ) and Guillaume Levarlet (Cofidis) scurried away from the bunch, their move showing that the sprinters’ teams were not moving as quick as they might have been. Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Tinkoff Saxo were most prominent at the front, but the lineout that would be expected if the peloton was moving quickly was absent.

This drop in momentum handed a chance to the break. Favilli jumped with 6.5 kilometres to go but was easily covered by Dennis and Jungels. The gap back to the bunch was 38 seconds heading under the six kilometre banner, with the chasers Le Bon and Levarlet having been caught.

Sky began driving the pace behind, working hard to keep Chris Froome in a good position heading onto the rougher paved section. The riders made use of a narrow strip of smooth surface in the centre of the road, sitting in one long line in order to avoid the jarring. Once that section finished the bunch returned to the familiar arrowhead pattern.

The break was almost caught with 1.5 kilometres to go, but Dennis attacked in a final bid for glory. Favilli went with him and tried to help them stay clear; the bunch was lurking behind, though, and the duo were finally caught inside the final kilometre.

Degenkolb launched his sprint and managed to hold off Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge), who went the long way around on a gentle bend and finished a bike length back. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) was close to him in third, one place ahead of his team-mate Jasper Stuyven and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida).

The bunch split towards the end but the general classification contenders finished inside the first cluster of 41 riders, ensuring the general classification remained the same in advance of Thursday’s category two summit finish.

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