By Kenny Pryde
John Degenkolb, now winner of three stages in the 2012 Vuelta, is a sprinter on a roll. After a disappointing Tour in which the Argos Shimano team's other German sprinter Marcel Kittel was forced to drop out with illness, the squad needed an invite from the Vuelta organisers to race in Spain.
And it looks like both sides have been well rewarded. "It's funny to think that less than a week ago I was winning my first ever stage in a Grand Tour and now I've won three," smiled a remarkably fresh-looking Degenkolb. "It was a hard finale, we were going right and left and up and down, but Team Sky did a great job for Swifty [Ben Swift] and then my team did their part too. When we got to the last corner I was well placed and it was up to me to finish the job."
The fact that the team is prepared to ride for the young German is testimony both to him, his form and the rising confidence in the squad. "I came to the Vuelta hoping for a win and after I got that anything else would be a bonus. But when I won stage two, we all realised that I was riding well, I had good form and that confidence has spread throughout the team. Now they are more motivated to work and fight for every inch in every finish because it's worthwhile if we can win the stage."
Degenkolb is leading the points jersey classification, a jersey that was fought over last year by Bauke Mollema and Joaquin Rodriguez - was he going to defend it? Degenkolb laughed: "Well, as you can see I'm built slightly differently from those two, but I'm going to race to defend it and try to win it, though so much depends on what happens in the next two weeks. I'll be fighting for it though, I'm proud to wear it, it's good for me and the team."
Now that he had won three stages - and reduced Liquigas' Elia Viviani to the status of petulant, handlebar beating runner-up - did he consider himself one of sprinting's big hitters? "Ha! That's a good question. Honestly the thing is that I'm still young [he's 23 - Ed.] and both I and the team have a lot to learn, we are looking for ways to improve all the time, in every area, so it's too soon to say that."
Whatever else happens to Degenkolb in this Vuelta, his three stage wins have done him, his team and his morale no harm at all.
Given that he was runner-up in the 2010 Under-23 World championships, it's not like he's come out of nowhere and who knows how high he might go in the sprinters rankings. One thing's for sure though, he won't win tomorrow's stage into Andorra. Stage nine however, into Barcelona on Sunday? That might be another matter.
Another fact? He's still under contract with Argos-Shimano next year so no matter how many Vuelta stages he wins, he's not going anywhere else.
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