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PONTEVEDRA, Spain (VN) — Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) took his second stage victory at the Vuelta a España to bolster his world championships credentials while Frederik Kessiakoff trimmed five seconds off Bradley Wiggins‘ narrow lead in a rolling stage that delivered a few surprises.
A four-man break peeled off early Thursday in the 167.3km 12th stage that rolled across the green hills of Galicia on a bumpy course from Ponteareas to Pontevedra.
The sprinter teams wanted to give their riders one more shot in a Vuelta short on sprint stages, so Lampre, Garmin, HTC-Highroad and Skil-Shimano all pitched in to take their pulls to reel in the remnants with less than 10km to go.
Leopard-Trek’s Fabian Cancellara led out Daniele Bennati on a rising finish line with 400 meters to go, but it was Sagan — already a winner in stage 6 in Córdoba — who blasted to victory.
The only rider who can muster a serious challenge was John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), but Sagan flew across the line victorious in another performance that will boost his profile going into the world championships later this month in Copenhagen.
“It was a good profile for me today,” the soft-spoken Sagan said at the line. “The legs felt good today and the team did great work. It’s good to win again.”
Finishing in his wake are riders who are expected to challenge for the rainbow jersey, with Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) third, Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) a distant fourth and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) sixth.
The victory brings his haul to 13 for the 2011 season, with his palmares replete with wins from February through September.
In an interview earlier in this Vuelta, Sagan said he believes he can contest for the world title on a sprinter-friendly course in Denmark.
“Some people don’t think I will be able to go that long of a distance, but I have been training for it,” said Sagan, who will headline the small Slovakian team. “The world championship is the big goal for the second half of the season. The Vuelta is going nicely, so why not?”
Sagan, just 21, proved he has racing savvy to match his powerful kick. He jumped wheels from Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) to Petacchi to Bennati before exploding off the wheel to make a long sprint.
For more than a decade, the eventual world champion has raced a large part of the Vuelta before dominating the world’s race. With pre-world’s favorites such as Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar, Matti Breschel, Oscar Freire and Matt Goss all exiting the Vuelta for a variety of reasons, they will be missing those racing miles that seem to be suiting Sagan just fine.
Whether Sagan can have the same kick at the end of 260km of racing instead of 160km remains to be seen.
Sagan never stops surprising, so his Vuelta performances so far could just be a preview of bigger things to come.
Wiggins loses a few seconds
Bradley Wiggins rode comfortably in the Team Sky slipstream throughout most of the day’s racing, but things got a little hectic in the closing kilometers for the British star riding in his first full day in the red leader’s jersey.
A rising finale in the closing 1.5km caused the peloton to fracture just slightly, so much so that race judges deemed there were enough gaps among the small packs of riders coming across the line to warrant time differences.
Wiggins said the stage was much harder than it looked on paper, but said he will go down fighting.
“It wasn’t an easy stage because we always rode fast on the course that was never flat. My teammates did their best to always maintain me in fifth or sixth place of the bunch,” Wiggin said. “This was my first day with the red jersey. I wore the pink jersey at the 2010 Giro after winning the prologue, but it was a totally different situation. Here, I took the lead in the mountains and that shows I want to win this race.”
Kessiakoff and ex-leader Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) were the most astute and stayed closed to the front of the bunch, finishing with the front riders to take a few, but potentially important seconds out of Wiggins and the other rivals.
The pair took back 5 seconds on a day when the GC picture was largely being overlooked, proving yet again that nothing can be taken for granted in a grand tour.
“The was the plan for Bauke Mollema to gain some seconds. We knew that the finale was complicated with an uphill sprint,” said Rabobank sport director Erik Dekker.”I’m surprised that none of the favorites followed Bauke. Those seconds might not seem to be much but when you look at the general classification, the time gained is very important. The end of this week will be decisive for the final classification.”
Kessiakoff, meanwhile, has been ever-steady throughout the first half of the Vuelta, staying close in the climbs and making a big surge in the Salamanca time trial.
He, along with Mollema, has emerged as one of the big surprises in this Vuelta, including his own team.
“I am happily surprised by Fredrik’s ride so far, but we cannot put a number on how he will do right now. There are still two very difficult mountain stages up ahead and, of course, we are going to support him,” said Astana sport director Giuseppe Martinelli. “He prepared well for the race, but he’s been a big surprise so far.”
Nibali took back one second to Wiggins, who held his seven-second lead to teammate Chris Froome. Kessiakoff climbed into third, now 9 seconds down, while Nibali is 10 seconds back.
“I lost one second (from Mollema) because I was on the wheel of Marcel Kittel, who was stopping his effort. I’m not worried because it’s a very little time,” Nibali said. “Tomorrow, I won’t attack, but if I see people like Wiggins in difficulty, then I’ll go. But I don’t think any difference will be created before the Angliru. I don’t know it but I’ve been told it’s like the Monte Zoncolan, where I was going pretty well at the Giro.”
Others lost more time, including Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), who each lost 19 seconds. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who’s had a disappointing Vuelta, lost 37 seconds.
Those seconds could prove decisive in a Vuelta that could well be decided with time bonuses and the click of the second-hand.
Friday’s stage: No walk in park
The 66th Vuelta continues Friday with a difficult transition stage that should see a breakaway stay clear.
The 158.2km route from Sarria to Ponferrada features five rated climbs, including two first-category climbs, with the Alto de Foigueiras de Aigas at 70km and the even longer and harder Puerto de Ancares at 96.6km. A third-category climb at 112km could prove fatal to any GC riders caught out of position on the Ancares.
There’s an unrated climb at the day’s final intermediate sprint at 131km and from there, it’s downhill and flat to Ponferrada, famous for its Templar castle.
“There will be some damage in our legs because we’ve ridden flat out all day. I feel like a dead man,” said points leader Joaquin Rodriguez. “Tomorrow, we fear another very difficult stage. I’m convinced that someone will get dropped.”
- 1. Peter SAGAN, (SVK) Liquigas-Cannondale, in 4:03:01
- 2. John DEGENKOLB, (GER) HTC-Highroad, at 0
- 3. Daniele BENNATI, (ITA) Leopard-Trek, at 0
- 4. Alessandro PETACCHI, (ITA) Lampre-Isd, at 0
- 5. Juan José HAEDO, (ARG) Saxobank-Sungard, at 0
- 1. Bradley Wiggins, (Great Britain) Team Sky, in 46:53:47
- 2. Christopher FROOME, (Great Britain) Team Sky, at 7
- 3. Fredrik KESSIAKOFF, (Sweden) Astana, at 9
- 4. Vincenzo NIBALI, (Italy) Liquigas-Cannondale, at 10
- 5. Jakob FUGLSANG, (Denmark) Leopard-Trek, at 19