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Finally raising his arms after a two year wait for a Grand Tour stage win, Peter Sagan triumphed at the end of Monday’s third stage of the Vuelta a España. The Tinkoff-Saxo rider nudged his way onto the wheel of John Degenkolb, then launched his sprint at the same time as the Giant-Alpecin rider.
He pulled clear of the German inside the final 100 metres and had enough left in the tank to hold off a late charge by the French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
Sagan’s last Grand Tour stage win was on stage seven of the 2013 Tour de France. He took three stages in the 2011 Vuelta a España, his last time to triumph there.
Monday’s success is a major relief for the Slovakian rider. He was second on five stages of this year’s Tour, and was also twice third and three times fourth.
“I’m very happy about this victory because I think it’s good for the entire team. This is a good start to the Vuelta a España. And finally I had a victory!
“I’m always trying to get the win and someday it has to come. And it did today, also thanks to my teammates, who were pulling all day and I’m very grateful for their effort. I’ve had many second places but you cannot always finish second. So today I finished first.
“That’s how cycling is, sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. I was searching for a victory during the Tour and now it has come.”
Degenkolb held on for third while Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC Racing Team) and Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) were fourth and fifth.
Stage two winner Esteban Chaves rolled across the line as part of the main bunch and thus conserved the red leader’s jersey. The Orica-GreenEdge rider is five seconds clear of Tom Dumoulin, Degenkolb’s team-mate, 15 ahead of Nicolas Roche (Sky) and 24 up on Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin).
The 158.4 kilometre stage began in Mijas and traversed the category three Alto de Mijas (km 14) early on prior to scaling the first category one climb of the race, the Puerto del León (km 76). The second half of the stage was considerably flatter, with the sole intermediate sprint coming at kilometre 121 and a small uncategorised climb topping out inside the final ten kilometres.
Early on eight riders slipped away, with Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep), Alexid Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Natnael Berhane (MTN-Qhubeka), Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Ilia Koshevoy (Lampre-Merida), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural), Walter Pedraza Morales (Colombia) and Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo) building a three minute lead prior to Fraile taking the top points on the Alto de Mijas.
Fraile was first over the later Puerto del León, adding to his points total and ensuring that he would end the day in the mountains jersey.
As anticipated, the peloton’s pace ramped up after the second climb. Chavenel picked up the intermediate sprint, after which Tallingii and Gougeard leaped clear of the fading break and extended their lead to just over a minute and a half.
The sprinters’ teams weren’t feeling charitable, though, with Sagan’s Tinkoff-Saxo and Degenkolb’s Giant-Alpecin hitting the front and ramping up the pace.
The two breakaway riders were soon picked up and the bunch continued on to the expected big gallop to the line.
There Sagan judged things exactly right, leaping clear as Degenkolb started his own sprint, outpacing the German and then resisting the desperate attempts of Bouhanni to get by before the flag.
The race continues Tuesday with a 209 kilometre race from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera. This features a short, steep, uncategorised climb inside the final five kilometres, but a confident Sagan will see if he can mix it up with the other explosive riders and try for a second stage win.
He’s also looking ahead to next month and a major goal there.
“I’m here at the Vuelta to do the best for my team and to get race kilometres into the legs before the World Championships. It’s good to know already that I have some speed in the legs and then we’ll see how it goes.
“The Vuelta is very hard, but this is a good start for me and my teammates.”
Vuelta a España (2.UWT) Mijas → Málaga