Sagan finally wins
For someone so prolific as Peter Sagan, having a two year gap between Grand Tour stage wins seems almost inconcievable, but that’s the kind of barren run the Slovak was on.
July 5, 2013, was the last time he crossed the line first in a three week race, between which time Sagan has raced 51 stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España without success.
That’s not to say he’s been out of contention – he was the butt of a long-running joke at the Tour de France as the guy who always finishes second, claiming five runners-up spots at this Tour.
The sprinters’ field is by no means as strong at the Vuelta as it was in the Tour, but Sagan still faced stiff competition in the run to Malaga, notably from John Degenkolb.
But unlike in the Tour, Sagan held off his rivals to win a long-awaited stage, and as the celebration showed – it meant a lot to him.
Bouhanni down but by no means out
While Sagan gained a reputation for playing second fiddle at the Tour, Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni made people think he was a bit soft when he abandoned after a first-week crash, despite no injuries being found.
On stage three at the Vuelta the Frenchman came down hard in a crash at a roundabout, looking pretty ropey in the immediate aftermath as he chatted to his sports director as he rode alongside the car.
As a man who hopes to make a career in boxing when he hangs up his wheels, it’s in Bouhanni’s best interests to make people think he’s not a wimp, so when he popped up in the final sprint it did his reputation the world of good.
Battling through the pain he made his way back to the front of the pack in the final kilometres and almost pulled of a great win but couldn’t quite edge Sagan on the line.
Cancellara’s annus horribilis
Poor old Fabian. In the spring he broke his back but returned in time for the summer. In the summer he broke his back but returned in time for the autumn, and now he’s been forced to pull out of the race with a stomach illness.
Cancellara has entered two Grand Tours this year and has completed a total of five stages, although one of those was with two broken vertebrae. Having struggled through Sunday’s stage two – finishing 29 minutes down – and again through most of Monday’s stage, the Swiss called it a day, although he would have missed the time cut anyway.
He was using the Vuelta as a way to build up his fitness and his form in time for the World Championships in September, but this latest setback could well end his chances of winning there.
Cancellara could race the Tour of Alberta in early September if his illness clears up, but six stages of racing in Canada, followed by two one-day races in Quebec and Montreal, will not leave him in as good a shape as three weeks at the Vuelta would have.
The Richmond World Championship course is one that could suit him well, but he’ll need to be on top of his game in order to compete against the best riders in the world.
With his career in its twilight, his chances of winning the rainbow stripes could now be over.
Tiralongo’s injuries take their toll
Only one man finished below Cancellara on stage two and that was Paolo Tirralongo, but the Italian had suffered horrific injuries in a crash, leaving him with 20 stitches – mostly in his face.
He must have hit the ground pretty hard in the crash that ultimately led to teammate Vincenzo Nibali‘s ejection from the race, judging by the state of his money-maker at the start of stage three.
It was remarkable that Tirralongo even made it to the start line, to be honest, but it wasn’t long before he called it a day after the injuries to his face, shoulder, hips and legs became too much.
Degenkolb and Giant-Alpecin fall short again
Last year Degenkolb won four stages of the Vuelta a España, but he wasn’t up against someone like Sagan for most of it. But like Sagan, Degenkolb has a bit of a reputation for finishing second in races, racking up 19 of them in the past two seasons.
Unfortunately he went one worse on stage three, losing out to Sagan and Bouhanni having opend up his sprint early. It seems to be a common theme for Giant-Alpecin this season – either setting up the German well and then seeing him fall short, or messing up the lead-out and letting Degenkolb struggle to the line.
The great thing about Marcel Kittel is that he can generally be relied upon to be faster than anyone else in the peloton when it comes to the final sprint, but Degenkolb readily admits he can’t win on pure speed alone.
Luckily there are a few stages that suit Degenkolb in this Vuelta, but that also means they suit Sagan as well, so Degenkolb could continue to play the bridesmaid in the coming weeks.