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After his Etixx-QuickStep team had controlled the race, Cavendish lived up to expectations by winning the bunch sprint at the Clasica de Almeria; Lobato and lead-out man Renshaw completed the podium

Photo: Etixx - Quick-Step/Tim De Waele

CLASICA DE ALMERIA

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JUAN JOSE LOBATO

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MARK CAVENDISH

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MARK RENSHAW

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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15.02.2015 @ 17:06 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his great start to the season when he won his first sprint on European soil at the Spanish one-day race Clasica de Almeria. Having been given the perfect lead-out by Mark Renshaw, he held off Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) while Renshaw was strong enough to hold onto third.

 

Mark Cavendish didn’t get his 2015 season off to the start he was hoping for when Fernando Gaviria beat him twice at the Tour de San Luis. Since he won the final stage of the Argentinean race, however, he has been unstoppable and today he opened his European account when he won the Spanish one-day race Clasica de Almeria.

 

Cavendish arrived at the race with lots of confidence after he won two stages and the overall at the Dubai Tour and his Etixx-QuickStep team were eager to control the Spanish event which has traditionally been dominated by sprinters. The course had several climbs in the early part and this opened the door for a strong breakaway that contained the likes of Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Romain Sicard (Europcar) but the Belgian team controlled the situation firmly.

 

When the climbing part was completed, Etixx-QuickStep dropped the hammer and quickly neutralized the break. As Katusha also hit the front, the riders hit a crosswinds section and this caused a split in the field, with 58 riders remaining in contention.

 

The second group never got back and Etixx-QuickStep were in a great position as they had 6 of their riders in the main group. They got lots of assistance from Katusha and Movistar in the finale and so they had lots of firepower left for the sprint that would decide the race.

 

The Belgian team proved that they have a formidable lead-out train as they put Cavendish in the perfect position to win the race and he easily held off Juan Jose Lobato to claim his first European victory. The Etixx-QuickStep squad was so dominant that lead-out man Mark Renshaw even completed the podium while Valerio Agnoli (Astana) was a surprising fourth.

 

While Cavendish will head to South Africa before his next race, the spotlight in Spain now turns to the Vuelta a Andalucia which starts on Wednesday and will have many of today’s riders in attendance. However, the main draw card will be the fact that Chris Froome and Alberto Contador will both make their debut in the Spanish race.

 

One for the sprinters

The Clasica de Almeria had a very typical format for its 2015 edition as the riders travelled over 183.3km from Almeria and back to the starting city. The first half of the race was slightly hilly with three categorized and several smaller climbs but the final summit was located more than 60km from the finish. From there, it was a downhill and flat run back to the finish in Almeria, meaning that a bunch sprint was the expected outcome of the Spanish race.

 

The riders took the start under beautiful sunny conditions and at the start there was barely any wind which meant that the peloton could stay calm. However, many riders were keen to go on the attack and the aggressive racing meant that it took some time for the break to be formed.

 

A strong break

After 5km of racing, the peloton was still together but soon after, 5 riders escaped. Unai Intziarte (Muria Taldea), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Miguel Angel Benito (Caja Rural) and Arthur Vanoverberghe  (Topsport Vlaanderen) were 20 seconds ahead at the 9km mark and after 12km of racing, they had extended it to 36 seconds.

 

The peloton decided to slow down and at the 14km mark, the gap was 1.40. Iniziarte was unable to keep up with his companions and dropped back to the peloton while the gap reached 3.18 after 25km of racing.

 

Etixx-QuickStep in control

Etixx-QuickStep now hit the front with David de La Cruz and Gianluca Brambilla working hard to keep the gap stable at around 3.35 and it stayed there until the 70km mark. A crash of Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) briefly interrupted the chase and the gap went out to 4.50.

 

Meanwhile, Bardet decided to use the first climb to take off on his own and he managed to get an advantage of 1.07 over Sicard and Benito while Vanoverberghe got dropped on the subsequent descent. At the 105km mark, he was 40 seconds ahead of his two chasers while the peloton was now 5.27 behind.

 

Bardet waits for his chasers

Bardet decided to wait for the duo and when they started the final climb, the escapees were 4.50 ahead of the peloton. However, the main group accelerated on the ascent and at the top, they were only 3.35 ahead.

 

The chase was now on in earnest and the gap came down quickly. At the 140km mark, it was finally over as Katusha led the peloton back to the escapees.

 

The peloton splits

Etixx-QuickStep and Katusha were now combining forces in the peloton which was split in the crosswinds and was down to just 58 riders. The second group fought for a little while, trying to get back, but as they gap continued to grow, they finally sat up.

 

With 20km to go, Movistar also came to the fore and it was young Marc Soler who rode on the front together with Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep). With 10km to go, the riders crossed the finish line for the first time and now all was set for a big bunch sprint as Astana also started to mix it up on the front. The pace was kept high until the final battle were Cavendish emerged as the fastest.

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