John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) won his second stage in the Vuelta a España, sprinting to victory in stage 5′s punchy finale in Ronda.
The 25-year-old German confirmed his late-season form, surviving a surprise effort by Tinkoff-Saxo to split the field in the crosswinds, then charging up the final hill to win.
Degenkolb also showed his canny instinct, shutting the door on Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr), who tried to shoot the gap between the Giant-Shimano rider and the barriers. Though Bouhanni adamantly protested in the finale — waving his arms several times in frustration — and also appealed to race officials, Degenkolb remained the outright winner.
“I don’t think I changed my line,” said Degenkolb. “I stayed from the beginning on the right and if he wants to pass he has to go on the left side because there was enough space.”
Despite Tinkoff-Saxo’s efforts in the crosswinds, the GC picture remained relatively unchanged. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) kept the overall lead. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) remains second, although he slipped to 13 seconds behind, and teammate Alejandro Valverde is now 20 seconds behind.
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) both remain in the top-10 overall after the day’s 180 kilometers of racing.
“The information was very bad, [they didn't] give much information about who was behind and who [wasn't],” said Contador of the split in the field. “We didn’t know who had been cut. I think at the beginning it had been a few [riders] that were interesting to leave behind, but then [some of them came] back and nobody told us [anything]. There has been a bit of confusion, but well, we have tried and here we have to be aware and well placed, because anything can happen.”
Thirty kilometers into the stage, two riders got away from the peloton, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol).
The field’s chasing efforts were sporadic, with FDJ.fr shaving the lead down to 1:30, then letting it go out to 2:30. To an extent, this corresponded with the bonus sprints, which were contested by FDJ.fr’s Bouhanni.
With 70 kilometers remaining, Martin suffered a mechanical and was reabsorbed by the peloton, leaving Ligthart alone on the front.
Perhaps signaling his form and intent, Chris Froome (Sky) attacked and earned a two-second time bonus at the sprint in Campillos. Contador, however, downplayed its importance. “In the first sprint [Froome] tried, but Bouhanni took it,” Contador said. “In the second sprint [Froome] attacked with his teammate, from further away, but isn’t important.”
Crosswinds lead to split peloton
At 40 kilometers to go, Tinkoff-Saxo took to the front on a slight descent and split the field in the crosswinds, catching out a number of riders, including Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky.
“Nobody expected Tinkoff-Saxo would go full gas on the descent,” said BMC director Valerio Piva. “Unfortunately, we had Cadel behind. But Garmin had Daniel Martin behind, so Cadel stayed just stayed in their wheel and the group came back. Fortunately, the gap was never more than 25 or 30 seconds.”
Ligthart was quickly caught by the field due to the increased pace.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), and Froome all made the front group.
Race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and fellow sprinters Bouhanni and Degenkolb bridged the gap to make the front peloton as well.
The gap between the front peloton and those off the back extended to 1:35 at the top of the final climb with 14 kilometers to go.
Tinkoff-Saxo and Sky both pushed the pace on the front, keeping the pressure on the group in arrears.
With two kilometers remaining, Sky was firmly ensconced on the front, stringing out the bunch.
BMC took control with 1.5km to go, setting up Philippe Gilbert for the sprint.
Just after the red kite, the peloton squeezed through a chicane, aiding BMC’s efforts to string out the field.
Gilbert sat in perfect position at third wheel, coming into the base of a short rise to the line with 500 meters left.
Koen de Kort (Giant-Shimano) lost his leader, Degenkolb, in the run-in, and took a stab at the finale on his own.
Gilbert quickly came around the Dutchman and looked to have the win in his pocket with only a few hundred meters remaining.
But then, wearing the sprinter’s green jersey, Degenkolb emerged on the left side of the field, blasting up the edge of the finish chute.
Bouhanni tried to shoot the gap, but wasn’t able to come between the German and the barriers.
Degenkolb took the win, but not without visible protestations from Bouhanni, who seemed to think that the Giant-Shimano rider deviated from his line.
“At the end we made the best out of the situation with just three of us,” Degenkolb said. “Warren [Barguil] put us in position, but after Koen launched I had to improvise after nearly missing a corner. I lost the wheel and had to close the gap, but luckily I was strong enough to still sprint.”
The Vuelta takes on its first summit finish Thursday on a 167.1km stage from Benalmádena to La Zubia, a category 1 climb. It will likely be Matthews’ last day in the leader’s jersey. “I’m going to try and enjoy it tomorrow as much as possible,” he said. “I think from the start it is going to be pretty difficult because I think a lot of the guys are going to want to go in the breakaway because it is possible to stay away.
“Putting on the red jersey for the last day tomorrow is going to be pretty emotional. It has been a really good journey so far with the jersey the last couple of days and I have really enjoyed it.”