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A high-speed crash with about 11km to go proved costly in Wednesday’s otherwise straight-forward sprint stage at the Vuelta a España.
Crosswinds failed to materialize until late in the pancake-flat stage from Taracón to Albacete, and a cross of wheels near the front half of the pack sent riders tumbling to the ground just as the bunch was ramping up the speed for a sprint finale.
Overnight race leader Rein Taaramaë (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) went down for the second day in a row, but this time, he was well outside of the “safe zone,” and ended up losing the leader’s jersey after ceding 2:21 on the stage.
Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), who started 25 seconds behind the Estonian, was untouched in the crash and rolled in with the lead bunch to take over the red jersey.
“This is not the way I wanted to take the jersey, but we know when there is wind, there is risks,” Elissonde said. “OK, I do not like it, but in the end of day I cannot do anything else. That’s how it is. It’s still incredible to wear this jersey as leader of a grand tour. After the Tour and the Olympics, I took it easy, and the team asked me if I could go to the Vuelta and just take it day by day. And look! That’s cycling. It’s incredible.”
Two-time defending champion Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) also avoided trouble to move into second, at 5 seconds back, and Lilian Calmejean (Ag2r-Citroën) slots into third at 10 seconds back. None of the other top 10 were impacted.
Movistar, which started with three riders in the top-10, managed to avoid losses despite seeing several of its riders tangled up in the mass of bikes and bodies.
“There was a lot of tension in the bunch, and I am not sure how it happened, but we all just piled up,” said Movistar’s Imanol Erviti. “We managed to brake enough, and even though there were a few of us caught up, were really dug in to try to chase back. There was a bit of a breather at the front as well, and we were able to get back to the front without a problem.”
That wasn’t the case for everyone.
Romain Bardet (DSM) and Mikel Nieve (BikeExchange) seemed to be most severely impacted as riders and bikes were tangled up on the road, and the losses spelled doom for the Frenchman, who started the stage 14th overall at 1:14 back.
Bardet and Nieve both lost more than 12 minutes as they paced to the line bloodied and bruised. There were no official medical report details immediately available, but team officials confirmed Nieve received stitches to his face and elbow at the finish line and will be assessed further by our medical team this evening.
“We never want a crash, and it’s a shame,” said a Team DSM sport director about Bardet. “He was able to come through and he’s got a little bit of pain. We don’t know the extent of the injury yet.”
Some of the favorites were also caught up, but were able to avoid valuable time losses.
“I was stopped on the right side and lost some time, but I was able to get back into finish OK,” said Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), now seventh. “Now we have the leader jersey with Kenny, and he is really strong on the climbs, and we can really control the situation.”
Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) said he just missed being caught up in the crash. Teammate Richard Carapaz was caught out, but was able to pace back to the front group.
“We could save the day thanks to the work of the team, and it was a good day for the team,” Bernal said. “There was so wind at a certain moment, but not enough to break up the peloton. The best thing to do was to go calmly and have men at the front for the final. The crash was just next to me. I was very concentrated, and I heard there was a crash, and I was concentrated on being up front.”
The Vuelta continues Thursday with 158.3km sixth stage from Requena to Alto de la Montaña de Cullera, a short but steep run to the line. The final 2km climb favors explosive riders and could produce splits in the bunch.