Late puncture can’t stop Van Poppel
Twenty-two-year-old Danny Van Poppel took the biggest win of his career on stage 12 of the Vuelta a España, throwing himself into a chaotic sprint in Lleida to come out on top. Making his victory even more memorable, Van Poppel nearly didn’t make the finale at all thanks to a puncture with 10 kilometres to go.
With the mechanical issue swiftly resolved, Van Poppel calmly managed to work his way back up to the bunch and through the riders to hit the front exactly when it mattered, and gave Trek its second victory in the race after 23-year-old Jasper Stuyven’s success on stage eight.
It’s refreshing to see a team successfully giving its young riders opportunities to take stages in a Grand Tour, and supporting them all the way.
Degenkolb denied again
John Degenkolb thumped his handlebars in frustration as he passed over the finish line, after getting boxed in during the sprint and again missing out on contesting the finale. He had to settle for fifth behind stage winner Van Poppel after finding himself in a poor position.
Last year, the German Giant-Alpecin sprinter was virtually unstoppable in Spain, claiming four stages and the points classification. There’s still time to take a stage victory or two, but a repeat of last year’s Vuelta haul now looks impossible.
Although success at the Vuelta is Degenkolb’s immediate concern, he can already look back on a stand-out season that has seen him win two of cycling’s biggest races: Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.
Tinkoff ultimatum: No incidents with race motos
After Tinkoff-Saxo riders Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho were literally knocked out of the race by official motorcycles, the Russian team had said it was considering withdrawing on grounds of safety.
Members of the team’s management met with race organisers and representatives of the UCI prior to the stage start. The squad – quite rightly – wanted assurances that such an incident would not happen again, and an agreement was made that measures would be put in place, so the team started.
Thankfully, the stage passed without any incident but there’s still a way to go before firm measures and guarantees are put in place to govern the behaviour of all race vehicles mixing with riders. The UCI has said that a ‘full review’ of the regulation of vehicles in races will be made ahead of the 2016 season.
Froome gone – Sky leadership shifts to Nieve
The biggest story of the day was undoubtedly Chris Froome’s departure from the Vuelta after sustaining a fractured foot as a result of a crash early on in the previous day’s stage. Froome had visibly struggled through the gruelling mountain stage on Wednesday. At the finish, he staggered off his bike and could barely stand.
An MRI scan prior to today’s stage confirmed what was suspected: he had broken a bone, and was out of the race. All thoughts of a Tour-Vuelta double were over.
The injury also means that Froome’s place on the Great Britain World Championships team at the end of the month is also in doubt.
Watch: Vuelta a Espana 2015 essential guide
Mikel Nieve has been handed Sky leadership duties, and the team has said that it will give the Spaniard exactly the same support that it would have given Froome. With Nieve riding well and sat in eighth place overall, one minute and 58 seconds behind leader Fabio Aru (Astana), Sky’s Vuelta is far from over.
Frank Schleck got a bit sweary
Red faces were in evidence at Eurosport when Frank Schleck was clearly tired and emotional on live television and used the F word, prompting a swift apology from the broadcaster.
Interviewed just after the finish, Schleck was recounting how he and the Trek team had helped Van Poppel to the stage victory despite Van Poppel’s late puncture. “The pressure was off,” said Schleck, “and Van Poppel thought ‘what the f***'”.
It was one of the most surprising performances that Schleck has given for years.