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Seven stages, seven winners, seven countries as Vuelta shows its cosmopolitan nature

After the spectacular, lung-bursting efforts of the uphill finishes on stages three and four of the Vuelta a España, the race has had three relatively quiet days as it travels eastwards across the south of Spain. That’s not to say it hasn’t had its share of drama and surprises in what is turning out to be a particularly cosmopolitan Vuelta, with the first seven stages featuring seven winners from seven different countries.

Here’s a quick review of what’s been happening over the past three days.

Stage 5: Guadix > Lorca

A lumpy stage profile, ending in a textbook sprint finish on a wide, straight road on Lorca – but with an unexpected result, as American Tyler Farrar beat Britain’s Mark Cavendish in a sprint for the first time at a Grand Tour.

Tyler Farrar wins stage five (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

A four-man escape group had leapt away at kilometre zero, with the peloton happy to let them go on another searingly hot day over rolling terrain. The advantage stretched out to a maximum of 6:30 early on, but was gradually reeled back in by the peloton, who swept up the break with just over 13 kilometres to go. While a number of teams, most notably Lampre, jostled for the lead position in the final couple of kilometres, both Cavendish and Farrar appeared to become isolated from their lead-out men, leaving them to fend for themselves.

In a disorganised finish, Cavendish launched his sprint too early, before the 300-metre mark, and as he started to fade in the final 100 metres Farrar swept past him with ease. Knowing the win had eluded him, Cavendish sat up, allowing Euskaltel-Euskadi‘s Koldo Fernández to sneak in for second.

It was the fourth Grand Tour stage for the Garmin-Transitions rider, to add to a win from the Vuelta last year and two at this year’s Giro d’Italia. It was also the first time he has beaten Cavendish head-to-head in 18 months, having come second to him on a number of occasions in between. And he achieved it  despite having been ill overnight.

I was not confident after suffering during yesterday’s stage. Only with 20 km to go I told my teammates that I was up for the sprint.

Of course it’s always nice to win against the best sprinter in the world but it’s even better to win a stage at the Vuelta. I’m very happy. Winning always helps to build confidence. Any other [win] coming after today’s would be a bonus.

Race leader Philippe Gilbert finished safely in the pack to maintain his lead, on a relatively straightforward day when his Omega Pharma-Lotto team put in a good shift to help reel in the escapees.

Stage 5 result:

1. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) 5:03:36

2. Koldo Fernández De Larrea (Euskaltel-Euskadi) same time

3. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) s/t

4. Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step) s/t

5. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) s/t

Stage 6: Caravaca de la Cruz > Murcia

Cervelo‘s Thor Hushovd demonstrated the perfect blend of pace and power by winning stage six in Murcia after the ascent of the Cresta del Gallo had sliced the peloton in two 17 kilometres from the finish.

Thor Hushovd proved the strongest of the fast man to win stage six (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The day’s early break, a three-man affair this time, was never allowed too far down the road and was caught about 20 km from the finish on the ascent of the Cresta del Gallo. Although only a second-category climb, it was enough to split the peloton in half, with an approximately 70-strong lead group leaving most of the pure sprinters, including the previous day’s winner, Tyler Farrar, to trail in two minutes later.

Katusha’s Filippo Pozzato and race leader Philippe Gilbert attempted to slip away early on the fast, technical descent but were hauled back in within a couple of kilometres. Hushovd’s Cervelo team then stamped out any further attacks before Gilbert himself attempted to win from the front in the final kilometre. But Liquigas‘s Daniele Bennati accelerated past him, pulling Hushovd with him, and the big Norwegian repaid the hard work of his teammates by timing his sprint perfectly to claim his third career Vuelta win with some ease. Bennati was second, with Lampre’s Grega Bole third.

It certainly wasn’t a simple win, as I suffered a lot on the last climb, but my teammates did a great job of pulling on the front to keep things together. At the finish, though, I took Bennati’s wheel and won the sprint quite easily. I showed that I’m getting better on the climbs, yet can still win in a sprint.

Gilbert finished sixth in the sprint, giving him the lead in the points classification as well as retaining the red jersey. All the other top men finished safely in the lead group, leaving the top of the GC unchanged.

Stage 6 result:

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 3:36:20

2. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) same time

3. Grega Bole (Lampre) s/t

4. Allan Davis (Astana) s/t

5. Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) s/t

Stage 7: Murcia > Orihuela

Alessandro Petacchi claimed his 20th career Vuelta stage win in Orihuela, as Cavendish’s winless streak continued.

A five-man break formed early on in today’s loop around Murcia, at one stage building a nine-minute lead before HTC-Columbia, Lampre and Garmin-Transitions nudged the peloton forward to bring the gap down, completing the catch with five kilometres to go.

No time to enjoy the scenery as the peloton speeds along during stage seven (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Lampre took control of the run-in in the final two kilometres, stretching the peloton out into a long, thin line. Despite being fairly straight, the finish was not without incident. Several riders had to swerve sharply to avoid a parked truck by the side of the road at 1.5 km, and there were also two small roundabouts to negotiate before the final sprint. The Lampre train dropped Petacchi into prime position to launch his sprint. Mark Cavendish, sitting on his wheel, found himself momentarily boxed in and was forced to soft-pedal for half a second, killing his momentum and forcing him to settle for second. Saxo Bank‘s J J Haedo‘s late charge was enough to secure third.

Petacchi was delighted with his win, having spent much of this week riding himself back into form:

In the finale I felt really good and my teammates were fantastic at bringing to an ideal position for the sprint. It’s always difficult to win sprints but it is particularly difficult to win here because of the number of fast riders that are competing in the Vuelta.

Getting twenty wins in a Grand Tour isn’t easy. My 52 stage wins in the three Grand Tours at the age of 36 shows young riders that you can have a long and successful career.

Cavendish, a self-confessed bad loser, accepted his defeat gracefully:

I was on Petacchi’s wheel and a Quick Step rider came to the front. He was sprinting but not sprinting. It was my problem for being in the box; I should have been out of it if I wanted to go for the win.

My team did a good job, so I’m disappointed. I’m in the points jersey, so that’s okay but I can send congratulations to Petacchi. He’s a great guy.

Including the team time trial, where Cavendish was first across the line for HTC-Columbia, every stage so far has been won by a different rider from a different country: Yauheni Hutarovich (Belarus), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Igor Antón (Spain), Tyler Farrar (USA), Thor Hushovd (Norway) and Alessandro Petacchi (Italy).

There were no significant changes in the overall classification, although Cavendish’s second place was enough to give him the green jersey in what is developing into a closely contested points competition, with just six points separating the top four.

Tomorrow sees the race tackle this year’s first category one mountain. The Xorret del Catí is the last of five categorised climbs on the stage, with the summit coming just three kilometres from the finish. We should expect to see some small but significant gaps form between the contenders here, giving us our first clear indication of who has the best climbing legs for the three consecutive beyond-category summit finishes which face the riders in the final week. The race is only just beginning.

Stage 7 result:

1. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 4:36:12

2. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) same time

3. Juan-Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank) s/t

4. Andreas Stauff (Quick Step) s/t

5. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) s/t

General classification:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 27:12:38

2. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:10

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:10

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) +0:12

5. Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia) +0:16

6. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) +0:29

7. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) +0:50

8. Rubén Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) +0:54

9. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) +0:55

10. Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) +0:58

Points classification

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 56 pts

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) 53

3. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 51

4. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 50

5. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 41

Mountains classification

1. Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) 13 pts

2. Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) 8

3. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 6

4. Xavier Tondó (Cervelo) 5

5. Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) 5

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent steephill.tv.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Seven stages, seven winners, seven countries as Vuelta shows its cosmopolitan nature

  1. Sheree says:

    This is proving to be a pretty exciting Vuelta.

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