PLAYAS DE ORIHUELA, Spain (VN) — A hard kicker with about 400 meters to go up-ended the pure sprinters and opened the door for Chris Sutton (Sky) to bolt to victory in Sunday’s opening road stage at the 2011 Vuelta a España.
Sutton followed the wheel of Vicente Reynes (Omega Pharma-Lotto) after an early surge by Tom Boonen (Quick Step) ran out of gas short of the finish line. Strong headwinds made things even more complicated for the chasing sprinters and the Australian Sutton dashed to the biggest win of his career.
“I knew the sprinters went too early and I waited, waited, waited,” Sutton said. “The Omega rider jumped and I went on his wheel. I knew with 200 meters to go I would win.”
Boonen agreed that he made his move too soon.
“It was an unusual sprint. Maes led me up into the final, but we busted the sprint a little too soon. I ended up uncovered too soon on the final uphill stretch. At that point I tried to slow down to try to reboot afterward, but the riders arriving from behind had a higher speed than me and there was nothing more I could do. It’s too bad.
“However, I’m in good shape, today my legs felt fine. Let’s see if I can do something good these next days.”
An early, four-man breakaway was reeled in for the Vuelta’s first sprint. With a sprint-friendly world championships waiting in Copenhagen two weeks after the Vuelta ends in Madrid, most of the sport’s fastest riders are here.
But a tricky final 2km kept some of those big names out of the mix. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) pulled off early, crossing the line at 1:01 back.
Boonen took a dig, but it was too early against a brisk headwind, opening the door for the patient Sutton to claim the win on the same day teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen won the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Germany.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) came across the line fourth, just behind German sensation Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano), who earned an eight-second bonus to move within 10 seconds of the leader’s jersey.
“It was a chaotic finish,” Farrar said. “CJ made the right move because there was kind of a lull there at the top of that kicker. It was just a drag race to the finish, but he had enough to win.”
Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) slipped across the line sixth to nudge ahead of teammate Jakob Fuglsang on GC.
“We didn’t expect to be so deep into the action this early in the Vuelta, but when you’re dealt a good hand, you have to play it,” said Leopard-Trek sport director Lars Michaelsen.
“Bennati can get over climbs, so maybe we can defend it again tomorrow. Jakob had no problem giving up the jersey, but maybe he will get it back again. We’re motivated for this Vuelta.”
Martens snags first KoM jersey
The 174km second stage from La Nucía to Playas de Orihuela featured an early third-category climb. With warm temperatures in the high 90s Fahrenheit and gusting winds, the stage had sprint written all over it, but that didn’t stop a few brave souls from trying to disrupt the script.
“It was freaking hot out there,” said Farrar. “It wasn’t a hard stage, if you look at the profile, but everyone suffered today because of the heat.”
Andalucia, last in Saturday’s team time trial, wanted to put one of its men in the day’s breakaway and sent riders into the early attacks. Jesús Rosendo (Andalucía) pulled clear, with Paul Martens (Rabobank), Adam Hansen (Omega Pharma) and Steve Houanard (Ag2r La Mondiale) following the wheel to create the Vuelta’s first break all within the first 10 minutes of racing.
Martens was first over the day’s lone rated climb, the Cat. 3 Alto de Relleu at 28.6km, to claim the Vuelta’s first climber’s jersey.
No one seemed too concerned with the breakaway and it quickly gained five minutes on the bunch. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) was on domestique duty, going back to the team car to stuff water bottles down his jersey to pass off to race leader Fulgsang.
That gap remained steady until about 60km to go, when HTC-Highroad, Skil-Shimano and Liquigas-Cannondale stepped up to help Leopard-Trek to form a proper chase.
With 35km to go, the margin was quickly trimmed to 1:07. The fat lady was getting ready to sing.
The 66th Vuelta continues Monday with the 163.5km third stage from Petrer to Totana. The rolling stage across the Murcia province should see some fireworks in the final hour of racing.
The route tackles a third-category climb at the Alto de la Santa with 12.4km to go, a road steep enough and close enough to the finish line to prompt attacks and shed a few sprinters.
A narrow final descent should aid would-be escapees, but with few sprint options on the Vuelta this year, a reduced bunch should come in to challenge for the victory.
- 1. Christopher Sutton (Aus), Sky
- 2. Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa), Omega Pharma-Lotto
- 3. Marcel Kittel (Ger), Skil-Shimano
- 4. Tyler Farrar (USA), Team Garmin-Cervélo
- 5. Matti Breschel (Den), Rabobank
- 1. Daniele Bennati, Leopard-Trek, 4:28:11
- 2. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:01
- 3. Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:04
- 4. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale, same time
- 5. Valerio Agnoli, Liquigas-Cannondale, s.t.