Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Canondale just held off another of cycling's top yong prospects, HTC-Highroad's John Degenkolb, to win a tough finish of Stage 12 of the Vuelra in Pontevedra this afternoon, on a tricky finish that included a kick uphill around a kilometre out. Daniele Bennati of Leopard Trek, who had been led out by world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, was third. Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins retains the overall lead.
It's the second stage win of the race for the 21-year-old Slovakian, who despite his youth is enjoying a second highly successful season at the Italian ProTeam and who must be considered a dark horse in the World Championships in Copenhagen later this month. Winner of the points classification in the Tour of California in each of the last two years, Sagan prepared for the Vuelta by winning that contest and the overall title at last month's Tour of Poland, and last week took his maiden Grand Tour stage win in Cordoba.
Today, as the gradient eased following a left-hand bend 500 metres out, Cancellara had come to the front with the aim of setting up Bennati, who was in his slipstream, but Sagan was sitting on the Italian's wheel in perfect position and made his move just after the Leopard Trek rider's leadout man had peeled off just over 100 metres from the line.
Bennati was unable to profit from the work Cancellara had done on his behalf, and instead it was Sagan who found the legs to power up the final drag to win, although Degenkolb, who is heading to Skil-Shimano for next year, pushed him close.
Althoug the profile of the final kilometre of today's stage meant that an out-and-out bunch finish was unlikely, it was always going to be a day that would have been circled on teh calendar by the more powerful sprinters in the peloton who fancied their chances over that final short, sharp uphill section.
It was unsurprising then, that the teams prominent at the front of the peloton included Garmin-Cervelo, working, in Tyler Farrar’s absence, for Heinrich Haussler, Skil-Shimano, looking to gain a second stage win of the race for Marcel Kittel, and Alessandro Petacchi’s Lampre-ISD.
In theory that should have given a bit of respite to Team Sky ahead of three big days in the mountains, culminating in a potentially decisive ascent of the Angliru on Sunday.
However, coming into the last 15 kilometres, perhaps mindful perhaps of the crash towards the rear of the bunch that had put him out of the Tour de France, Wiggins’ team mates brought the red jersey up to the front of the peloton and out of harm’s way.
At the same time, a Skil Shimano rider had hit some kind of problem and was being paced back to the peloton by the entire team, raising the suspicion that it may have been Kittel himself. The young German, who had said before the start today that he plans to pull out of the race after today, did not contest the finale, finishing more than half a minute down on the winner.
One man who was right up at the front of the race as Sagan was taking the win was Astana's Swedish revelation, Fredrik Kessiakoff, and with the first 15 riders crossing the line 4 seconds ahead of their closest pursuers, he now jumps above defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas Cannondale and into third place overall, albeit by just 1 second.
A three-man breakaway had got away around 10 kilometres into today’s stage, comprising Adam Hansen of Omega Pharma-Lotto, the Cofidis rider Luis Angel Mate and Jose Luis Roldan from the Andalucia team, and they were subsequently joined by the Vacansoleil rider, Ruslan Pidgornyy.
At one point they had a lead of getting on for nine minutes, but gradually the peloton reeled them in, with the catch made some 6 kilometres from the finish line. Although some riders tried to attack of the front of the peloton, the teams looking to place their men for a bunch finish weren’t going to be denied.
Vuelta Stage 12 Result 1 SAGAN, Peter Liquigas-Cannondale 4h 03' 01'' 2 DEGENKOLB, John HTC-Highroad Same time 3 BENNATI, Daniele Leopard Trek " 4 PETACCHI, Alessandro Lampre-ISD " 5 HAEDO, Juan Jose Saxo Bank-SunGard " 6 BOONEN, Tom Quick Step " 7 VAN AVERMAET, Greg BMC Racing " 8 MARTENS, Paul Rabobank " 9 MAES, Nikolas Quick Step " 10 MONDORY, Lloyd AG2R La Mondiale " 11 KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik Astana " 12 REYNES, Vicente Omega Pharma-Lotto " 13 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank " 14 LANG, Sebastian Omega Pharma-Lotto " 15 CARUSO, Damiano Liquigas-Cannondale " 16 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 4'' 17 CHAVANEL, Sylvain Quick Step + 4'' 18 LIGTHART, Pim Vacansoleil-DCM + 5'' 19 SIJMENS, Nico Cofidis + 5'' 20 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 5'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 12 1 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky 46h 53' 47'' 2 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 7'' 3 KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik Astana + 9'' 4 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 10'' 5 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 19'' 6 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank + 36'' 7 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 1' 06'' 8 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 1' 27'' 9 ZUBELDIA, Haimar RadioShack + 1' 53'' 10 BRAJKOVIC, Janez RadioShack + 2' 00''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.