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The Belkin sprinter stays aware in technical finale and makes a decisive split in the final roundabouts before beating Arndt in a close sprint; Valverde safely finishes in the bunch and wins overall

Photo: Belkin Pro Cycling Team

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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KENNETH VANBILSEN

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LUIS LEÓN SÁNCHEZ

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MORENO HOFLAND

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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RICHIE PORTE

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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23.02.2014 @ 16:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Moreno Hofland (Belkin) took his first major win on European soil when the talented sprinter won the final stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia. In a very hectic and confusing sprint, he made a decisive split inside the final two kilometres before beating Nikias Arndt (Giant-Shimano) in a close sprint while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) stayed aware in the finish to bring home the overall win ahead of Richie Porte (Sky) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural).

 

Moreno Hofland confirmed that he is a great sprinter in the making when he won today's final stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia. The youngster showed great positioning ability in a hectic finale before beating Nikias Arndt and Kenneth Vanbilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen) in the final dash to the line.

 

Despite a hilly parcours, everything came back together for a sprint finish where Topsport Vlaanderen did a fantastic job to string out the peloton. The Belgian team led the main group for several kilometres and rode hard through a number of roundabouts near the end.

 

Several splits occurred due to the fast pace, meaning that the Topsport train had almost escaped on their own. Only Arndt and Hofland had managed to latch onto the back of the team's line-up of riders, meaning that the sprint was down to just three riders.

 

Tom Van Asbroeck gave Vanbilsen a perfect lead-out while Arndt and Hofland stayed on his wheel. Despite the good preparation, Vanbilsen, however, had no chance in the final sprint and he was quickly distanced by his two rivals.

 

Hofland just managed to get ahead of Arndt just before the line, thus taking his first win on European soil after last year's overall win in the Tour of Hainan.

 

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) stayed attentive in the hectic finale and finished safely in the bunch, even staying on the right side of the decisive splits to slightly increase his overall lead over Richie Porte and Luis Leon Sanchez. Hence, the Spaniard took the overall win in the Spanish stage race for the third year in a row.

 

The Spanish calendar continues next weekend when the one-day races Vuelta a Murcia and Clasica de Almerica offer a solid block of racing for some of the best teams in the peloton.

 

A hilly affair

The 60th Vuelta a Andalucia came to a close with a 159.8km stage from Ubrique to the coastal city of Fuengirola. The stage was generally described as a highly unpredictable affair as the first part was very hilly, with the riders climbing the category 1 Puerto del Boyar (1112m above sea level) already after 26.9km and then hitting some rolling terrain that included a category 3 and a category 2 climb. However, the final 57.6km were predominantly downhill, with just a small uncategorized bump along the way, meaning that the stage was mostly expected to end in a sprint from a reduced peloton.

 

Many riders, however, knew that it could also be a day for a breakaway and so the race was off to a fast start as several attacks were launched in the opening part of the race. At the bottom of the Puerto del Boyar after 16.3km of racing, it was still all together and so a firework of attacks was expected on the lower slopes of the climb.

 

The break is formed

9 riders managed to separate themselves from the main group as Adrian Honkisz (CCC Polsat), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Linus Gerdemann (MTN-Qhubeka), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol), Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk), and Julian Arredondo (Trek) took off. Consisting of some very strong climbers, the group quickly built up a 50-second gap while Vasil Kiriyenka (Sky) suffered a minor crash in the peloton.

 

When Gerdemann beat Txurruka and Dumoulin in the sprint for the KOM points at the top, the gap had come up to 2.05 but the peloton was in no mood to let it get much bigger than that. After a little while, the escapees managed to increase their advantage to 2.45 where it was kept stable for some time, reaching a maximum of 2.50.

 

Movistar lead the chase

The peloton started to accelerate and after 75km, they had reduced their deficit to 2.15 and by the time, they hit the bottom of the category 3 climb, the gap was down to 2 minutes where it was kept stable all the way up the ascent. Honkisz fell off the pace and was quickly swallowed up by the peloton.

 

In the peloton, the work was done by Movistar who used Ruben Plaza, Javier Moreno, and Imanol Erviti to set the early pace. With Txurruka being just 2.50 behind on GC, the Spanish team could not allow the gap to get out of control.

 

Topsport make a move

At the bottom of the day's final climb with 60km to go, the Topsport duo of Tim Declercq and Stijn Steels launched an attack from the peloton. Their teammate Tom Van Asbroeck led the mountains classification but was in danger of losing it, forcing his teammates to try to catch the break before the top.

 

They didn't succeed as Gerdemann again made a small acceleration over the top to again take maximum points, this time ahead of Txurruka, Arredondo, and Fuglsang. This prompted the Topsport duo to give up and they quickly fell back to the peloton.

 

The gap comes down

The hard tempo by Movistar had brought the gap down to just 1.40 and they continued to reduce the advantage on the descent. When they hit the flat section at the bottom with 39km to go, the escapees were only 1.15 ahead.

 

There was now no longer much cooperation in the break and this prompted Dumoulin to make an attack. He had little success and instead Fuglsang took off, with Dumoulon bridging the gap.

 

Dumoulin gets clear

Ten Dam brought things gap together but there was now no chance that the cooperation could be resumed. Several more attacks were launched but no one had any success until Megias made a sneaky move to open up a solid gap.

 

Dumoulin had responded to everything and he made a hard acceleration to ride straight past Megias while the remaining escapees were now looking at each other. Megias was quickly back in the fold as Dumoulin started to build up a massive gap.

 

No cooperation in the break

Several attacks were launched from the chase group, with Fuglsang being one of the most active but no one could get clear until they hit a small climb. Wellens opened a small gap but was quickly passed by Arredondo who hoped to close the gap before the top.

 

However, the Colombian was already 25 seconds behind Dumoulin and he didn't make the junction. Behind, their former companions kept attacking each other while Megias just rode his own pace, constantly opening up new gaps until being brought back when new attacks were launched.

 

Belkin lead the chase

With 25km to go, the chase group was caught which prompted an immediate reaction from Belkin. They sent Lars Petter Nordhaug straight to the front to set up a sprint for Hofland as Ten Dam was now back in the front.

 

The peloton hit a windy section and became very nervous, with Sky riders Geraint Thomas and Xabier Zandio briefly trying to split things up. However, Movistar was quickly back on the front with Erviti.

 

Nervous racing

Gerdemann went to the front to start a chase for his teammate Gerald Ciolek but the nervous racing continued. Caja Rural and Vasil Kiriyenka (Sky) both moved to the front on separate occasions until Movtsra finally decided to calm things down.

 

Jordi Simon (Ecuador) attacked but just as he had caught Arredondo, the duo were back in the fold. Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and Ion Larrinaga (Euskadi) were the next to try but Nordhaug quickly closed it down.

 

Lotto join the chase

At one point, Dumoulin had been 1.45 ahead but with 20km to go, his advantage was down to 1.20. Belkin riders Nordhaug and Jonathan Hivert and Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN) had now organized the chase and they were later joined by a Lotto rider who was keen to set up Jens Debusschere for the sprint.

 

With 12km to go Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) attacked on a small climb and he was joined by Jose Herrada (Movistar) and Pavel Brylowski (ActiveJet). The trio managed to get to within 30 seconds of Dumoulin before being brought back.

 

Lutsenko makes his move

Aramendia was the next to try but as he was quickly caught, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) made his move. As Dumoulin had now decided to give up, the former U23 world champion quickly joined the lone escapee but behind Topsport Vlaanderen had now taken control with Eliot Lietaer.

 

The Belgian team caught the break with 5km to go as Lietaer, Stijn Steels and Declercq did a fantastic work.  They were briefly challenged by Wanty but managed to remain in control when they entered the decisive roundabouts.

 

That was when their fierce pace was enough to split the field to pieces, drawing clear a small group of Topsport riders and Arndt and Hofland. They delivered their sprinter Vanbilsen perfectly but in the end he was outgunned by Hofland and Arndt.

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