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With a powerful uphill sprint, Van Genechten beat Bennati and Valverde to win stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana; Atapuma retained the lead and Contador crashed in the finale

Photo: IAM Cycling

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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DANIELE BENNATI

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DARWIN ATAPUMA

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IAM CYCLING

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JONAS VANGENECHTEN

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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26.08.2016 @ 18:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jonas Van Genechten made it a full plate of grand tour stage wins for the IAM team when he powered to victory in a tough uphill sprint on stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana. After a crash had left only around 10 riders to contest the win, the Belgian blasted past late attackers Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and easily held off Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to take the biggest victory of his career. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was the first rider to go down, crossing the line with a bloodied shoulder, and Darwin Atapuma (BMC) retained the lead.

 

During the first years in the pro peloton, the IAM team had a hard time getting stage wins in the grand tours. The team had lots of success, most notably with Mathias Frank, but they always came up short in the three-week races.

 

The lack of results on the big scenes partly let to the demise of the squad as they are set to disappear at the end of the year. However, ever since the announcement was made, the team has been absolutely flying.

 

It all started when Roger Kluge picked up a surprise win at the Giro d’Italia and a few months later Jarlinson Pantano took their first stage win at the Tour de France. Today they completed the treble when Jonas Van Genechten emerged as the strongest in a tough uphill sprint on stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana.

 

Van Genecten has always been a bit of a specialist in uphill sprints and so he had eyed today’s hilly stage which ended with a 525m climb of 5.5%. He dug deep to make the selection when Astana whittled down the field in the grueling terrain and then powered to a comfortable victory that will go a long way in helping him to secure a new contract.

 

However, the sprint was far from guaranteed as Luis Leon Sanchez and Simon Clarke made a brave bid for the win and they were only swallowed up with 200m to go. At the same time, a big crash created chaos in the finale where Alberto Contador touched wheels with Tosh van der Sande and rolled across the line with a bloodied shoulder, again suffering bad luck in a grand tour.

 

After a slow start to the stage, the race really came to life with a little less than 50km to go when Astana suddenly hit the front with Dmitriy Gruzdev, Davide Malacarne and Gatis Smukulis. The trio sent several riders out the back door and brought the early break back with 43km to go.

 

Disaster struck for Samuel Sanchez as he suffered a mechanical. Due to the many dropped triders, there was no caravan and so Silvan Dillier, Dylan Teuns and Tejay van Garderen had to go full gas to bring him back. Finally, Danilo Wyss also dropped back to help him close the final bit of the gap on a small climb with 40km to go.

 

Gruzdev, Malacarne and Smukulis swung off and left it to Alessandro Vanotti to increase the pace as they went up a small climb. Andrey Zeits joined forces with the Italian and set a brutal pace that put many into the red zone. One of them was Rein Taaramae (Katusha) who is ill and had to abandon.

 

As the peloton headed towards the final climb, there was a big fight for position and it was Tinkoff that briefly took control with Manuele Boaro. However, Astana was soon back on the front with Vanotti and Zeits.

 

Vanotti emptied himself and then Zeits made the peloton explode as they went up a small climb. As soon as he swung off, Astana sent Dario Cataldo off in an attack. When he had a solid gap, his leader Luis Leon Sanchez took off together with Simon Clarke (Cannondale), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) and Luis Ange Mate (Cofidis) and they soon bridged the gap to the Italian. Further back, a chase group with Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Argon 18), Michael Gogl (Tinkoff), Damien Howson (Orica-BikeExchange), Egor Silin (Katusha), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Clement Chevrier (IAM) was formed.

 

Ag2r started to chase hard with Axel Domont and he soon brought the chasers back before he swung off. As the pace went down, Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) took off in pursuit but he found himself stuck in no man’s land 30 seconds behind the leaders.

 

Matvey Mamykin (Katusha), Francois Bidard (Ag2r), Chevrier, Julien Bernard (Trek) and Fabrice Jeandesboz (Direct Energie) joined Lagutin and they got a solid advantage before the attacking stated again. A small group with the likes of Peter Kennaugh, Ruben Fernandez and David De La Cruz joined them and that was too dangerous for the peloton.

 

Bernard and Mamykin tried again before De La Cruz, Bidard, Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) bridged the gap. However, as BMC started to control things with Ben Hermans, they were brought back too.

 

Hermans kept riding on the front and kept the gap at 40 seconds before Mate beat Clarke and Brambilla in the KOM sprint. However, they started to lose ground as they started the descent as the chase got organized. Haimar Zubeldia, Bernard (Trek), Tobias Luvigsson (Giant) and Sander Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) all hit the front and the gap was down to 20 seconds as they hit the final 13km.

 

The front quintet dug deep as they tried to stay clear but as they passed the 10km to go banner, they were less than 15 seconds ahead. Movistar were now also contributing to the chase with Imanol Erviti who traded pulls with Ludvigsson, Zubeldia and Wallays.

 

With 8km to go, Clarke and Sanchez left their companions behind and dug deep to maintain a 10-second advantage. With Brambilla back in the fold, Etixx-QuickStep also started to chase with Pieter Serry and tings were looking bad for the break.

 

Impressively, Sanchez and Clarke had pushed their advantage out to 18 seconds as they hit the final 5km where it as left to Erviti, Wallays, Serry and Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal) to lead the chase.

 

The chasers started to fall back and so it was Bora-Argon 18 that took control with Bartosz Huzarski. Serry took one final turn but the gap was still 16 seconds with less than 2km to go.

 

It was Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) who made the difference when he made a big pull that reduced the gap to 8 seconds at the flamme rouge. Then Tinkoff took over with Michael Gogl leading out Daniele Bennati, with Contador sitting in third wheel.

 

Contador felt safe and then started to drift backwards just before the final turn and here disaster struck. A touch of wheels with van der Sande brought the Spaniard, Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) and Samuel Sanchez down, leaving just 10-15 rider to go for the sprint.

 

Sanchez dug deep in a final desperate attempt to stay away but as Jose Joaquin Rojas did the lead-out for Valverde, it was clear that it was impossible. As Valverde was hampered by Clarke when they passed the attackers, it was Van Genechten who went from afar, immediately getting a big gap. Bennati finished fast but had to settle for second while Valverde scored four important bonus second by holding off Philippe Gilbert (BMC) in the battle for third.

 

Darwin Atapuma finished safely but with Valverde’s third place, he saw his advantage getting reduced to 24 seconds. He faces his first really big test as race leader tomorrow on stage 8 which has one of the hardest summit finishes of the race. The entire stage is completely flat until the riders hit the Alto de la Camperona which averages 7.4% over 8.5km. However, the numbers are deceptive as the gradient barely drops below 20% in the brutally steep final 3000m and so a big battle between the overall contenders is expected.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday’s hilly stage, the riders faced a very similar course on stage 7 which brought the riders over 158.5km from Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria. There was barely a single metre of flat road on the course that had three category 3 climbs and several uncategorized uphill drags. The first climb summited after 18.5km of racing while the final climb was located just 18.5km from the finish. From there, a descent led to the final 10km which were flat apart from the final 525m which were uphill at 5.5%.

 

It was another hot day when the riders gathered for the start of the first stage outside Galicia and as expected, the 189 remaining riders got it off to a brutally fast start. Cofidis attacked right from the gun, but their offensive failed, and therefore things were back together at the 6km mark. At the same time, the race lost a big name as Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) abandoned due to back pain.

 

Six riders get clear

13 riders formed the next break but they were brought back at the 9km mark, and instead it was Victor Campenaerts (Lotto NL - Jumbo), Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal), Davide Villella (Cannondale - Drapac), Vegard Laegen (IAM Cycling) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) who attacked. After 12km of racing, they had a modest lead of 9 seconds, but they slowly won the battle. Thus, the gap had gone out to 33 seconds just two kilometers later, and after 17km of racing, it was clear that they had made it into the break of the as their advantage was 1.14.

 

The sextet hit the first climb with a lead of 1.42, and while the temperature continued to increase, the gap did the same. Thus, it was 3.07 after 22km of racing but that was the signal for the sprint teams to come forward. Trek and Giant-Alpecin started to chase as they went up the climb.

 

The chase gets organized

While Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data) and Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo) both visited the medical car, Mate beat Laengen and Armee in the battle for the KOM points before the field reached the top 3.17 later. After the climb, Etixx-QuickStep also started to chase but nevertheless the gap went out to 3.32 after 38km of racing. It was a slow first hour as the riders only covered 38.5 km.

 

The gap stabilized at about 3.50 as Martin Velits (Etixx-Quick Step), Markel Irizar (Trek) and Sindre Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) led the peloton. The trio kept the gap stable at 3.50 as they went up a long uphill drag and then used the descent to take back a minute, reducing the gap to 2.30 as they hit the final 90km. They took it easier as soon as they hit the second climb but still managed to take back 20 seconds on the long, grueling uphill drag. Meanwhile, the escapees sprinted for the points and it was Mate who narrowly edged Armee out, with Campenaerts rolling across the line in third.

 

Bonifazio abandons

As it was the case on every descent, Gatis Smukulis (Astana) moved to the front on the long descent where the peloton took back another 30 seconds, reducing the gap to 1.40. At the same time, Trek lost one of their leaders as Niccolo Bonifazio abandoned.

 

Irizar, Velits and Lunke continued their work as the road went uphill and they kept the gap stable at 1.30 for several kilometres. Meanwhile, Laengen did a small sprint to win the intermediate sprint uncontested, with Armee and Mate rolling across the line in second and third.

 

Astana take the initiative

With 51km to go, the gap was still 1.30 but now it was time for Astana to kick into action. The Kazakh team put Dmitriy Gruzdev, Gatis Smukulis and Davide Malacarne on the front and they upped the pace significantly, trying to set Luis Leon Sanchez up for the win. Battaglin who crashed yesterday, and Igor Anton (Dimension Data) who is ill, were both dropped immediately. Omar Fraile waited for his team captain but the trio lost more than two minutes in just a few kilometres.

 

Lots of riders were dropped as the Astana trio continued to ride hard and so the gap melted away. With 43km to go, Villella and Laengen were the first to drop back. Campenaerts and Mate made one final desperate attack to try to stay away and hung on for a few minutes but it soon came back together. From there, everything exploded and the exciting finale ensued.

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