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Bouhanni draws first blood in the Vuelta

Having been perfectly led out by Soupe, Bouhanni took a very easy sprint win in a windy, hectic first road stage of the Vuelta, holding off Degenkolb and Ferrari; Valverde was the first Movistar rider across the line and took the overall lead

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JOHN DEGENKOLB

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NACER BOUHANNI

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ROBERTO FERRARI

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24.08.2014 @ 17:58 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) added another victory to his growing tally of grand tour victories when he what looked like an easy sprint win in the first road stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Having perfectly led out by Geoffrey Soupe, the Frenchman held off John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) to take his first Vuelta stage victory while Alejandro Valverde was the first Movistar rider across the line and took over the leader’s jersey.

 

A few months ago, Nacer Bouhanni dominated the Giro d’Italia sprint and the Frenchman has gone into the Vuelta a Espana with the plan to continue his impressive showing. Based on today’s first road stage of the race, the Frenchman could very well add another few victories to his growing tally during the three weeks in Spain.

 

Today he took his first ever victory in the Spanish race when he emerged as the strongest in the bunch sprint on the second day of the race. The Frenchman beat main rival John Degenkolb and Roberto Ferrari with a big margin to open his account.

 

Usually not reliant on a strong lead-out train, Bouhanni was greatly assisted by his teammates in today’s finale. Knowing that it was important to get through the late turns in the first positions, the French team dominated the finale and it was Murilo Fischer who hit the finishing straight as the first rider with his leader on his wheel.

 

With all lead-out trains being pretty disorganized, the pace briefly went down and Bouhanni risked getting swamped. However, Geoffrey Soupe did a great job to come from behind and he hit the front to keep the pace sufficiently high and avoid that Bouhanni’s rivals got back into position.

 

With 200m to go, Bouhanni launched his sprint and he easily distanced his nearest rivals. He had plenty of time to sit up and celebrate his victory while the other sprinters were left to fight for the minor positions.

 

Degenkolb had been poorly positioned but did a very good sprint from far back to pass most of his rivals. However, Bouhanni was too far ahead and the German had to settle for second.

 

For the GC riders, it was a very stressful day as the windy conditions created lots of nervousness and the final 30km were raced at a very fast pace as everybody wanted to be in a good position. Luckily, they avoided any bad crashes and all the key contenders reached the finish in the same time as Bouhanni.

 

The big winner, however, was Alejandro Valverde as he crossed the line as the first Movistar rider, finishing the stage in the top 20. The Spaniard took over the leader’s jersey on a countback but is still in the same time as five of his teammates.

 

He goes into tomorrow’s third stage with the red jersey on his shoulders and faces a hillier day in the saddle. In the second half of the stage, the riders go up 4 category 3 climbs before descending for almost 50km to the finish. Inside the final 2km, however, the riders go up a 1km climb with an average gradient of 6% which will make for a finale that suits the puncheurs.

 

A windy stage

After the opening team time trial, the sprinters were expected to come to the fore in the first road stage which brought the riders over 17.4.4km from Algeciras to San Fernando. Right from the start, the riders went up the first category 3 climb of the race but from there it was a predominantly flat run close to the Andalusian coast. However, the wind was expected to play a big role and even though the sprinters were expected to shine, the GC riders faced a nervous day in the saddle.

 

All riders who finished yesterday’s stage took the start under beautiful sunny and very hot conditions. Right from the start, Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) launched the first attack and as he started to climb the Alto del Cabrito, he was joined by Nathan Haas (Garmin), Kristian Sbaragli, Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (both MTN-Qhubeka), Valerio Conti (Lampre) and  Romain Hardy (Cofidis).

 

Haas takes the mountains jersey

The peloton showed no interest in catching the break which was allowed to build an advantage of 2.35 even before they crested the summit. At the top, Haas beat Sbaragli and Conti in the battle for the KOM points and will wear the mountains jersey tomorrow.

 

With their mission accomplished, Sbaragli and Haas dropped back to the peloton while the remaining four escapees pressed on.  The Movistar team of race leader Jonathan Castroviejo assumed their position on the front of the peloton and kept the gap stable between the 3- and 4-minute marks for some time.

 

Tjallingii crashes

Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) suffered an unfortunate crash but after receiving medical treatment, he rejoined the bunch. Meanwhile, Movistar continued to set the pace and with 100km to go, they still had the situation under control with a 3.35 gap.

 

The peloton now slowed down a bit and with 80km to go, the escapees had extended their advantage to 5.00. At this point, the escapees contested the first intermediate sprint, with  Van Rensburg beating Cont and Aramendia.

 

The sprint teams join the chase

Movistar started to accelerate and with 70km to go, they had brought the gap down to 3.45. Now they got some assistance from the sprint teams as Giant-Shimano and FDJ both lend a hand.

 

For a long time, Laurent Mangel (FDJ), Chad Haga (Giant-Shimano) and Jose Herrada (Movistar) traded pulls on the front and they gradually started to bring down the gap. With 50km to go, the escapees were just 2.15 behind while the battle for position started to intensify.

 

Debusschere crashes

A crash brought down Fabio Felline (Trek), Jens Debusschere (Lotto Belisol) and Merhawi Kudus (MTN) but all riders managed to rejoin the peloton. Meanwhile, Conti led Hardy and Van Rensburg across the line in the final intermediate sprint.

 

With 35km to go, the gap was down to just 1.30 and the battle for position was now fierce. The riders were approaching a change of direction and as everybody wanted to stay near the front, the three chasing riders got swamped. Instead, all the big teams lined up their trains next to each other on the front of the peloton.

 

The break is caught

With 30km to go, the escapees were just 30 seconds ahead but now the peloton slowed down a bit. Movistar briefly took control while the front group split up, with Van Rensburg launching an attack.

 

The South African was the final rider to get caught with 17km to go and now Tinkoff-Saxo had taken over the pace-setting. Sergio Paulinho and Michael Valgren both took some huge turns on the front before Matteo Tosatto took over.

 

Sky take control

Entering the final 10km, it was Daniele Bennati riding on the front with Alberto Contador on his wheel but the Russian team was now passed by Sky. Philip Deignan, Peter Kennaugh, Christian Knees and Dario Cataldo rode hard on the front to keep Chris Froome protected while the battle for position raged behind them.

 

With 5km to go, IAM hit the front to position Matteo Pelucchi for the sprint before Manuel Quinziato took over with Samuel Sacnhez on the front. Next Sky again took over with Froome at the back of the train before Bennati took one final turn for Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

With less than two kilometres to go, Pieter Serry hit the front but he was passed by 5 FDJ riders who managed to position themselves perfectly for the technical finale. They held off Giant in the sprint to get into the final corners in the first positions and from there they completely dominated everything.

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