Vuelta a Espaņa - Sutton surprises favourites with win
Sun, 21 Aug 16:40:00 2011
Chris Sutton of Team Sky timed his sprint to perfection to secure a maiden Grand Tour win with victory in stage two of the Vuelta a Espana.
The Australian put Team Sky's disappointing opening TTT on Saturday to bed with a classy finish in the first proper road stage of the race, latching onto Spaniard Vicente Reynes' wheel on the uphill approach before pulling clear of the Omega Pharma-Lotto man to take a deserved win at Playas de Orihuela.
Germany's Marcel Kittel (Skil Shamano) took third place ahead of American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Denmark's Matti Breschel (Rabobank) in the 174-km stage along the Costa Blanca in southern Spain.
Sixth place for Italian Daniele Bennati was enough to see the Leopard Trek rider take over the leader's red jersey from his team-mate Jakob Fuglsang.
Under fierce sun and sweltering temperatures reaching 42 degrees, a four-man breakaway had formed early on the road after the start in La Nucia.
Paul Martens (Rabobank), Adam Hansen (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Steve Houanard (Ag2R) and Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucia Caja Granada) built up a maximum lead of more than six minutes before some hard chasing on the front of the peloton set up the inevitable bunch sprint.
After 28km on the road Germany's Martens was first to cross the summit of the only climb of the day, the third category Alto de Relleu, to ensure he will wear the race's first polka dot jersey, while fellow escapee Redondo picked up maximum points at both intermediate sprints.
The gap was tumbling fast when Hansen launched a solo attack with 32km left to ride. The Australian had around 50 seconds over the bunch, which caught his three fellow escapees with ease, before himself throwing in the towel with 15km remaining.
Despite early pressure, the HTC-Highroad team of sprinter Mark Cavendish never formed their trademark train - and it was left to Omega Pharma-Lotto, Leopard Trek and Sky to take up the challenge.
The final two kilometres of the stage proved decisive: a series of technical turns, roundabouts and tricky switchbacks was followed by a punchy ramp in the road. Belgian Tom Boonen (QuickStep) launched the first attack but soon faltered, allowing Reynes through.
Reynes looked to have made his team-mate Hansen's hard work worthwhile but the Spaniard slowed as the road flattened out, allowing Sutton to pass him to take what looked to be a routine - but solid - win.
It was the best result of Sutton's career after his victory in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne classic earlier in the spring. Sutton will now wear the green points jersey as the race's best sprinter.
"For me it's a dream come true to win a stage at a Grand Tour," the 26-year-old said. "We don't exactly have the perfect lead-out train here but what we do have is strength. In the team all the boys today were fantastic - so to win today and to deliver it for all of Team Sky is a dream come true. I can't believe it."
Kittel, competing in his first Grand Tour after notching four stage wins in the recent Tour of Poland, did well to finish third and underline his credentials as one to watch for the future.
Cavendish failed to make the top ten after struggling on the final climb - making it a second successive off-day for the soon-to-be-folding HTC team, who also saw Australian Matthew Goss pull out of the race.
The Vuelta continues on Monday with an undulating 164-km stage three from Petrer to Totana.
Vuelta a Espaņa : Stage 2