Vuelta a España - Sagan takes maiden Vuelta win
Thu, 25 Aug 16:27:00 2011
Slovak sensation Peter Sagan won stage six of the Vuelta in Cordoba after a superb combined effort by Liquigas on the final descent to the finish.
Sagan, the youngest rider in the Vuelta at just 21 years of age, outsprinted veteran Spaniard Pablo Lastras (Movistar) to take the 193km stage from Ubeda and secure the first Grand Tour victory of his career as Liquigas took four of the first five places.
But there was drama at the finish after a confusion between the comparatively inexperienced Sagan and his team leader, the reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali, over whom should take the win.
In bizarre scenes in Andalucia in southern Spain, four of the five riders in the leading group were from Liquigas after Nibali used his renowned descending skills to force a gap in the peloton on the back of the only climb of the day, the Cat.2 Alto del Catorce.
With red jersey Sylvain Chanavel (Quick Step) distanced on the descent, and 20 bonus seconds up for grabs for the stage winner, Liquigas clearly favoured a win for Nibali to propel him into the race lead.
Inside the final 100m, Lastras - winner of stage three and the previous race leader - took advantage of a breakdown in communications between the four Liquigas team-mates to launch his own bid to become the unlikely victor against all odds.
Faced with the prospect of his team inexplicably ending the day completely empty handed, Sagan countered Lastras to take a rather subdued win - resulting in some angry gesticulations by Nibali after the finish.
Leopard Trek's Jakob Fuglsang led a chasing group containing Chavanel and stage five winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) over the line 17 seconds in arrears, with the remainder of the main bunch coming home 23 seconds down.
Frenchman Chavanel maintains his race lead, 15 seconds ahead of stage four winner Daniel Moreno of Katusha, while Nibali rises to fourth in the GC, a further second back.
The bumpy stage - the longest so far in this year's Vuelta - got of to an ominous start when Danish sprinter Matti Breschel (Rabobank) crashed heavily in the neutral zone and was forced to abandon the race. With multiple cuts and bruises, plus two broken bones in a hand, Danish national road captain Breschel's appearance at the World Championships, held in Copenhagen next month, are now in jeopardy.
Numerous attacks came in thick and fast during a nervous opening 60km of racing, with both Chavanel and Rodriguez popping up in short-lived breaks.
But with 130km left to ride, a four-man group finally stuck on the instigation of Swiss time trial champion Martin Kohler (BMC). Kohler, Spaniard Adrian Palomares (Andalucia), the four-time Latvian champion Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis) and Yukihiro Doi (Skil Shimano), the first ever Japanese rider to feature in the Vuelta, combined well to build up a maximum lead of eight minutes on the road, before being swept up by the peloton on the Alto del Catorce inside the closing 25km.
French veteran David Moncoutie (Cofidis) attacked on the climb to cross the summit in pole position ahead of a chasing Tony Martin (HTC). The pair were soon joined by Kevin Seeldaeyers (Quick Step) and David de la Fuente (Geox) on the rolling plateau ahead of the final descent to Cordoba.
Driven forward by time trial specialist Martin, this foursome held a maximum lead of 45 seconds but this was whittled down as soon as Nibali's Liquigas came to the front of the chasing peloton.
Reaching speeds as high as 90 km/h on the descent, the Liquigas quartet not only blew apart the peloton but soon caught and passed the leaders. Only Lastras could manage to hold on, leading to what effectively became a team time trial once the road hit the flat inside the final 5km.
The best sprinter of the leading group, Sagan was clearly the danger man. But once it became apparent that Chavanel had been distanced, and Nibali could take the race lead with those 20 bonus seconds, Liquigas's focus changed.
Nibali, however, did not have the strength to better the rogue presence of Lastras in the final sprint - and Sagan was forced to take matters into his own hands to save the day for his team.
"It would have been better if Vincenzo had won, but it was [at least] a Liquigas rider in the end," said Sagan.
It was the 21-year-old from Slovakia's first Grand Tour win in his first Grand Tour participation - and continues a fine season that has already seen Sagan take eight wins, including overall victories in the Giro di Sardegna and last month's Tour of Poland, as well as the Slovakian national road race championships.
The Vuelta continues on Friday with the 183km stage seven from Almaden to Talavera de la Reina.
Sagan claims stage six win