Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) out-kicked Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and a resurgent Peter Sagan (Cannondale)on Saturday, winning stage 8 of the Vuelta a España in a bunch dash to the line.
Bouhanni, who had protested Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb’s tactics in stage 5, didn’t mind changing his own line considerably to take victory on Saturday.
“I had good legs today. I was a bit surprised I could win. I went early, because I did not want to get boxed in,” he said.
“It was a hard stage, very nervous when the bunch started to split up. My team did a great job to help me stay in good position.”
The 207km stage from Baeza to Albacete saw a two-man break go clear: Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Francisco Javier Aramendia Llorente (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
The escapees took six minutes at one point before being retrieved with less than 40km remaining.
Then, with 25km to go, the bunch split into echelons. The front two groups came back together, and up front were Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing), Sagan, and Chris Froome (Sky), among others.
Another group was chasing a half-minute down, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Degenkolb.
“It was a crazy end. The wind was causing problems, but in the end we managed to save the day,” said Valverde, who added that he knew Quintana had been caught out.
“I was aware of it. I didn’t know exactly if Quintana was closing or not, but I couldn’t look back. I just had to keep going at the front.”
BMC was driving the pace in the lead group, with Manuel Quinziato and Steve Morabito. But inch by inch, more riders fought their way up to the leaders and it was a sizable group that formed up to contest the finale.
Giant took up the pace going into the final left-hander and through a roundabout with 2.5km to go. Then Orica-GreenEdge and Cannondale moved forward for Matthews and Sagan, with Orica on the point coming out of the final turn.
Degenkolb, Matthews, Sagan and Bouhanni battled for the win at the end, with the FDJ rider edging his Orica rival at the line. Sagan crossed third.
“I’ve won twice in a week, so I am happy,” said Bouhanni. “I was close to abandoning a few days ago, and I am happy that I made it to this stage.”
Despite all the action in the wind, when the overall was tallied, Valverde retained the red leader’s jersey by 15 seconds over teammate Quintana, with Contador third at 18 seconds.