Vuelta a España: Peter Sagan’s third stage win seals Juan José Cobo’s victory
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vuelta a España: Peter Sagan’s third stage win seals Juan José Cobo’s victory

by Ben Atkins at 12:18 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
Slovakian champion sprints to victory in Madrid after final stage see no threat to Spaniard’s red jersey

peter saganJuan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) officially sealed his overall victory in the 2011 Vuelta a España after the final stage saw no threat to his slim lead. The final, largely ceremonial stage between the Circuito del Jarama motor racing circuit and the Plaza Cibeles in the Spanish capital Madrid saw a third stage victory for Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), as the 21-year-old Slovakian champion proved to be the fastest of the remaining sprinters in the race.

The finish of the stage looked for all the world like it was to be a two-man battle between Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) as it entered the final hundred metres of the 95.6km stage. As the two Italian sprinters drifted towards the right hand side of the road though, Sagan shot straight down the middle to push his front wheel ahead on the line.

"I never expected to have so successful a race at the start,” said Sagan at the finish. “The Vuelta for me was a kind of gamble, Ineeded to understand how I could perform over three weeks and to see how I could cope with the really difficult climbs. Now we’ve finished in Madrid, I can say that I’m more than satisfied.

“That was the first important objective,” he added, “but the addition of three victories has made my first Grand Tour really special. I couldn't ask for more."

Bennati managed to get just ahead of Petacchi on the line to take second place to add to his victory the previous day, with the Lampre-ISD veteran unable to match his second place from stage sixteen.

The sprint came at the end of a largely predictable final Grand Tour stage, which began with a ceremonial procession into the Spanish capital, led by Cobo’s Geox-TMC team. As soon as the peloton hit the finishing circuit though, the pace went up and the three-man group of Joan Horrach (Katusha), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jose Alberto Benitez (Andalucia-Caja Granada) escaped.

The breakaway group was able to build a lead of almost a minute, eating up the points and bonus seconds at the intermediate sprints on laps three and eight. They never had any chance of staying away to the finish though, and Horrach was the last to be reeled in with around ten kilometres to go, leaving the sprinters to have their day.

Despite just trailing Cobo by thirteen seconds at the start of the day, Chris Froome (Team Sky) observed Grand Tour protocol and refrained from attacking on the final day. The Kenyan-born Briton became only the second British rider to stand on the podium in one of the three-week races though, with teammate Bradley Wiggins becoming the third, taking third place overall.

“I knew that I was in a good shape after the Tour of Burgos at the beginning of August and I had two weeks after that to improve my condition,” explained Cobo. “But I came to the Vuelta to help Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov and three weeks later, I’m here to talk about winning the Tour of Spain, it’s unbelievable!”

With the mountains jersey already decided, with David Moncoutié taking a fourth consecutive title in four Vueltas, and tradition meaning the red jersey was won, the only overall competition left was that of the green points jersey.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) were locked together on 115 points at the start and, although Horrach took the points on the intermediate sprints on behalf of Rodriguez, ninth place for the Mollema on the finish line earned him victory in the classification.

A ceremonial finish but there’s still a chance to change the lead

At just 95.6km, and with an entirely flat profile, the final stage of the 2011 Vuelta a España into Madrid was expected to be a largely ceremonial affair. After travelling into the Spanish capital from the Jarama circuit, the peloton would complete twelve laps of a 5.7km circuit before finishing in an expected bunch sprint.

In theory it would be possible for Froome to take the race from Cobo, with bonus seconds available at the two intermediate sprints at the end of the third and eighth laps, as well as on the finish line. Tradition however, would normally dictate a truce between the overall contenders, which should leave the sprints to those fighting over the points jersey.

Were it not for the bonus seconds at stage finishes, Froome would be leading Cobo by nineteen seconds. For the Kenyan-born Briton to take the jersey back in that manner on the final day might seem poetic justice, although the Sky team was to have another objective on the day.

“There’s still a possibility for me to win,” said Froome at the start. “We’ll keep going all the way through; we’ll keep the pressure on Cobo until the very end.

“In our team, [stage two winner] CJ Sutton is ready for the final sprint,” he added. “We’ll try to get him in that position.”

Rodriguez and Mollema were tied on 115 points each going into the final stage, with Rodriguez holding the green jersey thanks to his two stage wins. Mathematically, Cobo, Froome, and stage twenty winner Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) could take the jersey, but in practice it should be a straight fight between the two climbers.

With no climbs on the route, David Moncoutié (Cofidis) just had to cross the finish line to win his fourth polka-dot jersey, equalling the total of the late Jose Maria Jimenez but becoming the first rider to win in four consecutive years. The maverick French rider has a one hundred percent record, taking a stage and the mountains jersey in every one of his four Vuelta appearances.

Before the start, Moncoutié confirmed that he will return to try and equal the outright record, held by Italian Edoardo Molinar, promising that he "will come back in 2012 to win for the fifth time."

After a procession into Madrid the action starts

After a neutral lap of the motor racing circuit Cobo’s Geox-TMC team led the peloton at a ceremonial pace into the Spanish capital. As the race hit the finishing circuit though, just as happens in Paris at the end of the Tour de France, the hostilities began.

As usual it was Andalucia-Caja Granada that set things off, with most of the Professional Continental team massing at the front and increasing the pace. Into the first of the eleven laps a large group detached from the front of the peloton, of which three managed to get away.

Joan Horrach (Katusha), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jose Alberto Benitez (Andalucia-Caja Granada) were the three riders to escape. The big group was still away, just ahead of the peloton, which was being led by Lampre-ISD – who wanted to keep things under control for sprinter Alessandro Petacchi – and Rabobank – who would have liked Mollema to take some of the points at then end of the second lap.

Horrach was doing his job well however, on behalf of teammate Rodriguez, and he and the other two breakaway riders worked hard together to open up a healthy gap. The Mallorcan rider led the trio across the line to take the points, 31 seconds clear of the peloton, which had swept up the chase group.

At the end of the next lap the gap had opened up to 43 seconds, with the entire Lampre-ISD team lined up on the front of the peloton. With Argentinean sprinter Juan Jose Haedo still in the race, and looking for a second stage victory, the Saxo Bank-SunGard team began to add its riders to the Lampre-ISD paceline.

The fifth time across the line the trio’s lead had increased to 50 seconds, which crept up to 52 seconds the next time around. A Leopard Trek rider came forward to join Lampre-ISD and Saxo Bank-SunGard, on behalf of Bennati, and on the line with five laps to go, it had reduced slightly to 48 seconds.

Horrach led Benitez and Caruso over the line for the eighth time, to take the points and seconds and leave the red and green jersey competitions in the state they were at the beginning. The peloton was still 48 seconds behind but, with only 22.8km to go, the pace began to rise and it steadily began to close and it was down to 28 seconds with three laps to go.

With the intermediate sprints done the breakaway’s days are numbered

With the catch looking imminent Benitez accelerated to delay the inevitable for a little while longer. The pace dropped off the chase a little but, as they approached the line for the tenth time, with just 11.4km to go, Horrach attacked.

Benitez and Caruso were quickly taken back by the peloton, but Horrach persisted just a few metres ahead of the Lampre-ISD- and Team Sky-led chase. With Caruso caught, Liquigas-Cannondale joined the front of the peloton, on behalf of double stage winner Peter Sagan, as did Quick Step, HTC-Highroad and BMC Racing and the lone Katusha rider was pulled in before he reached the final ten kilometres.

Horrach’s job was done though, having prevented Mollema from taking any of the points at the two sprints, and all Rodriguez needed to do was cross the finish line ahead of the Dutchman to secure the green jersey.

Into the final lap the big teams have control

Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-SunGard) led the peloton over the line to start the final 5.7km lap. Liquigas-Cannondale was moving forward though, as the riders were forced almost to a standstill on one of the three u-turns on the course. As the race entered the final four kilometres though it was Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady who took over on behalf of Bennati.

The Australian took the race into the final two kilometres, before handing over to teammate Davide Vigano, with the pace set by the Luxembourg team causing the peloton to split into several pieces. Petacchi was in second wheel, behind Vigano, but had come forward far too soon and, as Vigano peeled off, the Lampre-ISD rider tried to drift back and the high speed of the peloton was checked slightly.

Seizing its chance Skil-Shimano burst forward around the final corner and launched Koen De Kort into the finishing straight. The Dutchman had gone too early though, and faded as Petacchi came flying past with Bennati on his wheel.

It looked as though the two Italians were going to decide the result between themselves but, as they drifted to the right, Sagan launched himself straight up the middle, getting his wheel just ahead of them, to take his third victory of the race.

Behind them John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) took fourth, with Nikolas Maes (Quick Step), who is more used to serving as Tom Boonen’s lead out man in the Grand Tours, taking his best result with fifth.

Mollema was visible in the background, raising his hand as he crossed the line in ninth place. The Dutchman was safe in the knowledge that he was finishing ahead of Rodriguez, who was stuck behind one of the splits in the peloton, to secure the green points jersey.

Cobo and Froome crossed the line side by side, in nineteenth and twentieth places, just as they had done in many of the preceding stages. The 30-year-old Geox-TMC rider rolled over clutching his red helmet in disbelief that he had won the first Grand Tour of his eight-year career.

Result stage 21
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
2. Daniel Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-ISD
4. John Degenkolb (Ger) HTC-Highroad
5. Nikolas Maes (Bel) Quick Step
6. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
7. Chris Sutton (Aus) Team Sky
8. Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil-Shimano
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
10. Vicente Reynes (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto

2011 Vuelta a España final standings
1. Juan José Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 13s
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky @ 1’39”
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 2’03”
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC @ 3’48”
6. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek @ 4’13”
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale @ 4’31”
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto @ 4’45”
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha @ 5’20”
10. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 5’33”

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