Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb delivered a stage win Tuesday at the Vuelta a España, after what he called a “disappointing” result on stage 3.
Degenkolb handily won the stage 4 sprint in Córdoba, just northeast of Seville.
At first, in the final kilometer, it looked like IAM Cycling’s Vicente Reynès might have had the jump to make it to the line first. But he was no match for the versatile German sprinter.
Degenkolb made short work of a peloton greatly reduced by two categorized climbs and hot temperatures.
The Giant-Shimano rider has not been immune to the heat, though. “Yesterday was quite disappointing to not hang on, it was too explosive,” he said. “Today I felt a little better. To handle the heat, I need a day or two to adapt. Today, it worked out, and my team did a great effort to keep me there. It’s great to win another stage of the Vuelta.”
“This second place is like a win,” said Reynès. “I had a good day despite the heat. On the climbs, I’ve never felt so good. I guess the training camp in Bernina is really paying off. … Today, I stayed calm in the middle of the pack. And in the end, I found Degenkolb’s wheel and just followed that. When Tony Martin attacked, I chose to follow him since my only chance was to catch everyone by surprise, since the sprinters were going very fast. That’s why I launched my sprint as far back as 300 meters. I have no regrets; in any case, the best won today.”
Four riders off the front
Early in the 164.7km stage, four riders attacked and established the day’s breakaway. The escapees were: Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja-Rural), Gert Joeaar (Cofidis), Sebastien Turgot (AG2R La Mondiale), and Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar).
Although their early advantage was near four minutes, the break’s lead mostly hovered between two and three minutes over the peloton.
With 55 kilometers to, the gap was well under a minute, and Turgot gave up on the escape.
Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) seized the opportunity at the start of the first climb and attacked from the peloton. He quickly caught and passed the leaders.
After the descent of the Alto de San Jerónimo, Engoulvent bridged to Txurruka.
However, the two leaders were soon caught on the first trip through Córdoba, at the base of the day’s second climb, a category 1.
On the Alto del Catorce por Ciento, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked, and he was soon joined by Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), and Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida). Romain Sicard (Europcar) also attacked from the field to join the leaders.
“An attack [by] Alejandro there is not surprising at all,” said Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). “It’s true, I thought that maybe he [would] attack before, but also [I] knew it was a little crazy because [it was] was very windy, and for sure you had to spend a lot of energy, since at the end [we] caught them.”
Back in the peloton, Cadel Evans (BMC) was sidetracked by a flat tire. He chased back with help from teammate Rohan Dennis. “I tried to help him back on,” Dennis said. “Once I got him there, it was one or two-minute effort at most.”
Despite a furious descent into Córdoba, the break’s lead was a mere 10 seconds.
The break was caught as the race entered Córdoba for the second time, with nine kilometers remaining.
“When we hit the final climb it was full gas,” said American Chad Haga (Giant-Shimano). “We were working hard to keep John [Degenkolb] and Warren [Barguil] at the front as we knew it would explode.
“We ended up getting over the top and down the bottom with four of us in the front group and from there it was about doing what we had to do.”
Degenkolb is peerless in the sprint
The bunch swelled behind Orica-GreenEdge, as they took the front on a wide highway at six kilometers to go. The peloton had been pared down by the hard climbing. Stage 2 winner Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) was not in contention.
Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) attacked just outside one kilometer to go. He got a slight gap, but never enough to jeopardize the inevitable sprint finish.
Inside of the final kilometer, Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) led out the sprint, likely just trying to avoid the chaos behind.
Reynès took up the sprint with about 500 meters left, but he was no match for Degenkolb, who quickly dispatched the Spaniard and won the sprint into a headwind by several bike-lengths. Race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was third.
Matthews keeps the red jersey as race leader. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) remains in second place, eight seconds behind, while his teammate Valverde is third place overall, 15 seconds back.
“I love the Vuelta a España,” said Degenkolb. “… I love the weather and the country. I am always happy to be here and enjoy the lifestyle and the food.”
More heat is expected for Wednesday’s 180km stage from Priego De Córdoba to Ronda. Stage 5 will feature a rolling profile, with a category 3 climb in the final 20 kilometers.