Vuelta a España: John Degenkolb motors to a hat-trick on Alcañiz race circuit
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Vuelta a España: John Degenkolb motors to a hat-trick on Alcañiz race circuit

by Ben Atkins at 12:02 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
German sprint prodigy goes three from three in sprint stages after Argos-Shimano controls the stage

john degenkolb John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) took his third victory of the 2012 Vuelta a España in the seventh stage, between Huesca and the Motorland Aragón race circuit, Alcañiz, to maintain his perfect record in the sprint stages so far. The German sprint prodigy was led out by teammate Koen De Kort on the wide finishing straight, and managed to hold off a late charge from Italian track specialist Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the line.

Australian Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge) took third place, just ahead of French champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat), with Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) fifth.

“It was a pretty hard finale,” said Degenkolb afterwards. “But everybody could see my team riding all together in one line. We’re used to this effort now. Firstly, Sky did a good lead out for Swifty, but at the last corner, my guys brought me in a perfect position to sprint.”

A third stage victory gave the German a commanding lead in the green points jersey classification, and now hopes to hold it all the way to Madrid.

“Well, last year it was a fight between Joaquim Rodriguez and Bauke Mollema,” he said. “They look a bit different than me, don’t they? Now the green jersey is on my shoulders. I’ll fight for every point but we don’t know what can happen until we reach Madrid. I came here with the goal of winning a stage, so anything more is a bonus.”

The rolling 164.2km stage saw a long breakaway from Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Pablo Lechuga (Andalucía), Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM), who got away in the early kilometres. The four riders were able to build a maximum lead of five minutes in the first half of the stage, before Degenkolb’s Argos-Shimano team came forward to keep them under control.

The group’s advantage gradually reduced in the second half of the stage until, with 25kmto go, they began to attack one another. Lechuga was the first to be dropped, while the other three exchanged attacks until Aramendia too was distanced with just over 15km to go. The peloton was just a few seconds behind by this point, and Lindeman and Rabon were also caught soon afterwards.

The sprinters’ teams then began their usual battle for supremacy at the head of the peloton; a crash near the back with ten kilometres to go saw fourth placed Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran delayed, but it was the Colombian’s team that drove the peloton into the motor circuit to line up Ben Swift for the final sprint.

As the other teams brought their fastmen forward however, it was Degenkolb that came out on top again, with Viviani punching his bars in frustration just behind him.

Uran was the only rider in the top ten to be held up by the late crash, so the general classification was largely unchanged at the end of a relatively easy day for red jersey Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).

Another day for the sprinters and the opportunists at the bottom of the classification

The seventh stage was to be the third opportunity for the sprinters in the peloton. With no classified climbs, the gently rolling 164.3km course presented few difficulties, and the finish on the Alcañiz race track would allow the fastest riders to use all of their horsepower.

Determined to try to foil the sprinter though, were Aramendia, Lechuga, Rabon and Lindeman, who escaped after just two kilometres. After the second- and third-last riders had been in the break the day before, Aramendia was dead last in the overall standings at the start of the day. None of the others was any danger to Rodríguez’ red jersey either, with Lechuga the best placed, way down in 96th position, 26’10” behind the Catalan.

After 21km the four riders were five minutes clear, so Argos-Shimano came forward to stop the gap from growing too much. While the Dutch Pro Continental team had no intention of bringing the four riders back yet, their advantage slowly began to come down and, after 50km of racing, it had been reduced to 4’18”.

Through the feedzone, in Bujarolz after 83.4km, the breakaway group’s lead was still 4’05” but, as Lotto-Belisol and Team Sky moved up to help set the pace, it began to fall more quickly.

With 50km to go the gap had dropped to 1’45” where the quartet was left dangling for some time; as Lechuga led across the line at the first intermediate sprint, in Caspe with 45.2km to go, it had grown a little, to 1’54”, but continued its gradual progress downwards as the temperatures - which were approaching 40 degrees centigrade - took their toll on the four escapees.

Any gains made by the peloton at this point were more due to the fatigue of the four riders up ahead than any concerted effort to chase them.

The break’s days are numbered and the cooperation evaporates in the Spanish sun

With 30km to go though, the group’s lead was little more than a minute as FDJ-BigMat and RadioShack-Nissan led the peloton. The bunch was spread right across the road however, with the sprinters’ teams’ reluctance to pull back the foursome too early.

An attack from Rabon with 29km to go saw the cooperation in the group evaporate however, and saw Lechuga droppped as Aramendia tried to close the gap to the Czech rider. Lindeman refused to come around the Caja Rural rider, but then attacked him and managed to close the gap to Rabon alone.

Aramendia refused to give up however, and managed to fight his way up to Rabon and Lindeman by the 27km to go point. Almost immediately though, Lindeman attacked himself; this time Rabon and Aramendia worked together to try to bring the Dutchman back, and they managed to do so as they entered the final 25km.

Lachuga was picked up by the peloton at this time, which was still being unhurriedly led by RadioShack-Nissan, almost a minute back. The speed began to rise however as teams sought to get their riders in position and, with 20km to go, the gap was down to just 20 seconds.

Lindeman attacked the group; Aramendia went himself after the Dutchman had been chased down; then Lindeman went again. Rabon chased, and caught up with the Dutchman though, as they entered the town of Alcañiz; both riders slowed though, as they began to discuss what to do next, which allowed Aramendia to catch up again.

Lindeman jumped away to take the second intermediate sprint, with 17.9km to go, and kept going, but Rabon caught him, and tried to go over the top himself. The two riders had now got rid of Aramendia once and for all, and the Caja Rural rider was quickly back in the peloton.

Lindeman and Rabon were not able to stay away for much longer though, and they too were back in the fold before the 15km to go banner.

A crash in the bunch can’t keep the sprinters from a high-octane finish

Katusha was moving forward in force, keeping Rodríguez out of trouble at the front, then, as Orica-GreenEdge hit the front with ten kilometres to go, a crash in the middle of the peloton brought down and stopped a number of riders.

Those to hit the ground included Linus Gerdeman and Markel Irizar (both RadioShack-Nissan) - the latter who had, until recently, been pulling the front of the peloton - but fourth placed Uran and Denis Menchov (Katusha) were also among those to be delayed by the incident.

Clearly not bothered by the damage to Uran’s overall chances, Team Sky hot the front with six kilometres to go and took the peloton onto the motor racing circuit. The British team was stringing out the peloton with Liquigas-Cannondale lurking behind but, under the power of second place overall Chris Froome, and British champion Ian Stannard - with sprinter Ben Swift tucked in behind them - Team Sky managed to detach a group of six riders off the front.

Davis was also in the six-man group, but Liquigas-Cannondale clawed the peloton back across to them, just as they entered the final kilometre.

French champion Bouhanni was the first to open up, and was followed by Swift, who emerged from behind his teammates. Degenkolb launched himself from behind de Kort’s wheel though, and powered away from the others.

Viviani then opened up his own sprint, and was gaining on Degenkolb as the line approached; the German just managed to hold on though, as the Liquigas-Cannondale rider crossed the line beating his bars in frustration.

"Today it was a calm stage,” said Rodríguez, “but tomorrow it will be very hard. I know that final part very well; seven kilometres of steep climbing, especially the last four. So, the 8th stage will be crucial for general classification.

“My rivals are very strong, all of them for a different reason with different characteristics,” he added. “It will be hard to win the general classification, but I came to 'Vuelta' in order to take some good results and I'm very motivated and focused.”

Result stage 7
1. John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano
2. Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
3. Allan Davis (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ-BigMat
5. Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
6. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
7. Dennis van Winden (Ned) Rabobank
8. José Roaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team
9. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky

Standings after stage 7
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 10s
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 36s
4. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 54s
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
6. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 1’04”
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 1’12”
8. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 1’17”
9. Juan José Cobo (Spa) Movistar Team @ 1’34”
10. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky @ 1’39”

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