TALAVERA DE LA REINA, Spain (VN) — Yesterday it was Peter Sagan, and today it was Marcel Kittel who dashed to victory as a new generation of riders makes its presence felt in the 2011 Vuelta a España.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) crashed hard in the final sprint in Friday’s 18.29km seventh stage as the 23-year-old German powered to an impressive victory against the elite field of sprinters.
“This is like a dream for me to win this stage,” said Skil-Shimano’s Kittel, who has racked up 13 wins this season. “I have won a lot this year, but nothing compares to winning a stage in my first grand tour. It’s beyond words.”
Kittel won ahead of Sagan, with three-time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) crossing the line third to win his first major victory in a grand tour.
The three were well ahead of the crash that took down Farrar and some GC favorites, among them Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
“I was involved in the crash together with Paolini and Moreno,” Rodriguez said. “Luckily I don’t seem to have any serious consequence, apart for some little abrasions in my left hand. Tomorrow there will be a stage where we could do a good job, even if I don’t think there will be huge gaps.”
Because the crash happened within the final 3km, all the riders involved in the spill were awarded the same time as the winner.
Despite some echelons forming late, most of the pack came in together for the mass sprint. There were no major shakeups in the GC, with Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) keeping the red leader’s jersey for the fourth day.
“Although the stage was classified for sprinters the route was anything but easy. There was also a wind factor that antagonized the pack all day long. However, we stayed in control all day,” said Chavanel.
“The only rough moment came at the arrival when Farrar slid out and caused a pileup. Luckily I managed to brake in time and not fall.Tomorrow will be a different day, definitely more complicated. As always I’ll try to defend the jersey, but if I should lose it I won’t make a big deal out of it. In this Vuelta there are thousands of possibilities to shine.”
Kittel has been one of the revelations this season and his victory is huge for him and his modest Skil-Shimano team. He will stay with the Dutch outfit for two more seasons, and with the arrival next year of John Degenkolb, the pair should become a force in the mass sprints.
“My team did a great job for me today. They kept me out of trouble all day and delivered me to the line just perfectly,” Kittel said. “My strength is my finishing speed. When I can get close to the line, I can go fast in the final 200 meters.”
Kittel and the rest of the sprinters might not get another sprint any time soon.
The Vuelta moves next into a string of three critical stages, with Saturday’s hilly eighth stage coming ahead of Sunday’s summit finale at La Covatilla and Monday’s decisive individual time trial.
Early break y ‘abanicos’
Friday’s 182.9km seventh stage offered the Vuelta’s first real chance for the pure sprinters. The undulating course featured no rated climbs, but pushed north across “España profunda” out of Andalucía and into Castilla La Mancha.
With a cool front blowing into northern Spain, the peloton got a break from the heat wave that had gripped the race during the first week. It was at least 10C cooler at the start than what the peloton suffered through Thursday.
It didn’t take long for the break to form. Four riders shot clear in the first kilometer and quickly carved out an eight-minute lead in the opening, hilly part of the stage. In the break were: Luis Maté and Julien Fouchard (both Cofidis), Steve Houanard (Ag2r) and Antonio Cabello (Andalucía-Caja Granada).
With such few sprint stages on the menu in this year’s Vuelta, the script was set for a mass gallop. Garmin-Cervélo and Skil-Shimano took responsibility to keep the break on a comfortable leash until the real chase began.
With 60km to go, the gap was still hovering around six minutes, but quickly dropped as more sprinters’ teams moved to the front of the chase to shut down the move. With 20km to go, the gap was under a minute.
Gusting crosswinds created a split in the bunch with about 30km to go and the GC candidates were frantic to not lose position. A crash took down Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil) and Dario Cataldo (Quick-Step), further disrupting the peloton.
RadioShack’s Tiago Machado was the biggest name caught out of position, but was able to regain contact with the front bunch. Taylor Phinney (BMC) was with a group of 16 riders finished that finished 6:51 back.
The 66th Vuelta continues Saturday with the first of three decisive stages that should go a long way toward crowning the 2011 champion. Sunday sees La Covatilla, the second of six summit finales, while Monday is the Vuelta’s lone ITT, but it’s Saturday’s roller-coaster stage that could blow apart the race.
There are three officially rated climbs, but the course is non-stop up and down all day. The stage opens with the long Cat. 1 Puerto de Mijares that should spring a breakaway.
The route circles north into the mountains west of Madrid, with two second-category climbs on roads that provide little time to regroup for dropping riders.
The finish line at San Lorenzo de el Escorial comes with a brutally steep final kilometer on cobblestones.
- 1. Marcel Kittel, Skil-Shimano, 4:47:59
- 2. Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale, same time
- 3. Óscar Freire, Rabobank Cycling Team, s.t.
- 4. Daniele Bennati, Leopard-Trek, s.t.
- 5. Lloyd Mondory, Ag2r La Mondiale, s.t.
- 1. Sylvain Chavanel, Quick Step, 27:29:12
- 2. Daniel Moreno, Team Katusha, at 0:15
- 3. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:16
- 4. Joaquin Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 0:23
- 5. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:25