Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who in this year’s Vuelta is riding in Spain for the first time, already seems to have gained an Iberian branch for his fan club – and this afternoon, the young Slovakian rider was cheered on by them as he clinched an uphill sprint in Pontevedra to win his second stage of the race.
As he rode towards the line, holding off HTC-Highroad’s ohn Degenkolb, a huge banner was unfurled in the crowd bearing his name. “I didn’t know who these people were”, admitted Sagan, who added, “I’ve already been touched by fans who stopped me on several occasions for autographs.”
Giving autographs is something that the 21-year-old has already had to get used to in less than two years of riding with Liquigas-Cannondale. He successfully defended his points title at the Tour of California in May, and last month won the Tour of Poland. Now, he’s winning multiple Grand Tour stages.
“There was some confusion in the bunch with three kilometres to go”, said Sagan of today’s finish. “One and half kilometre before the line, I wasn’t well positioned. I was a bit behind. I rode back up the front by myself. I managed to get onto Fabian Cancellara’s wheel when he accelerated for [Daniele] Bennati. At the end of the day, I’ve made the right choice, I think.”
To anyone watching on TV, Sagan made it look easy, despite his modesty, and got himself in the perfect position to capitalise on Cancellara’s leadout, finding the finishing power that Bennati lacked. But, he revealed, Degenkolb almost managed to snatch victory from him.
“As I opened the sprint, I hit a speed bump with 100 metres to go”, he explained. “I hadn’t seen it. I lost my pedalling rhythm and my chain went down. I was already on a big gear, so I kept pushing hard and by doing so, I didn’t realise that Degenkolb was trying to pass me.”
The youngster is now hoping to make it through to the end of his first Grand Tour. “I’m very happy to have taken the two occasions I got for winning stages”, he said. “Now I want to make it to Madrid. I’ll see if there is another chance for a success and I hope that Vincenzo Nibali will win the overall. I believe he can do it.”
Nibali, the defending champion, slipped one place to fourth, 10 seconds behind race leader Bradley Wiggins, a slender lead particularly since, unlike the Tour de France, the Vuelta offers time bonuses for the first three finishers on each road stage.
”Tomorrow, I won’t attack, but if I see people like Wiggins in difficulty, then I’ll go,” said Nibali this evening, although he conceded, “I don’t think any difference will be created before the Angliru. I don’t know it but I’ve been told it’s like the Monte Zoncolan, where I was going pretty well at the Giro.”
Bradley Wiggins leading the 2011 Vuelta on Stage 12 (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“It hasn’t been an easy stage because we always rode fast on the course that was never flat, said Wiggins after today's stage. Together with team mate Chris Froome, second overall, he finished five seconds behind Sagan to maintain their one-two on GC.
“My team-mates did their best to always maintain me in fifth or sixth place of the bunch,” he continued. “Some riders must have suffered from the many changes of rhythm,” he added.
“This was my first day with the red jersey,” Wiggins went on – the leader’s jersey also making it easy for local kids hunting for autographs to pick him out.
Wiggo signs his autograph for the kids (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“I wore the pink jersey at the 2010 Tour of Italy but it was a totally different situation, he reflected. “That was after the prologue I won in Amsterdam. Here, I took the lead partly in the mountains. It gives an evidence that I want to win this Grand Tour.”
The Vuelta passes a Galician church (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Marcel Kittel of Skil-Shimano, winner of Stage 7 at Talavera de la Reina last week, now heads home following his debut Grand Tour but was unable to go out with the flourish he would have liked.
“I was already dropped ten kilometres before the end of the stage,” explained the 23-year old. “My team brought me back in the peloton. They helped me really well. But I was just not strong enough anymore to stay at the front with the best sprinters.
“I’m not happy to leave the Vuelta,” he confessed. “I’ve had two great weeks. I thank the organisation for having invited us. To get one victory at my first Grand Tour is incredible.
“I’m sad to go home. I really wanted to finish. In the next years, I hope that I’ll be able to complete the three weeks. Now I’m too tired to continue. I’ll take some rest and prepare for the world championship. I think we (Germany) can get a medal.”
Meanwhile, it has been announced that the other German to have won a stage so far in this year's Vuelta, Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad, will be riding for Quick Step-Omega Pharma next year.
“We’re happy with the agreement we reached”, said team manager Patrick Lefevere, revealing that Martin, who won Monday's indiviudual time trial in Salamanca, had signed a three-year contract with the team.
Tony Martin on his way to Vuelta time trial victory (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“Martin is a highly valuable athlete, a world class cyclist who actually holds 12th place in the World Tour rankings," Lefevere continued.
"His arrival will allow us face time trial tests with new ambition; and considering his fantastic athletic potential, he’ll also have more to give in other areas. He'll also someone who all the young riders on our team can look up to.”
“I’m pleased to be riding with such a prestigious team”, said Martin, “Thanks to team Highroad I had a wonderful experience and I grew professionally on one of the best teams in the world.
"Now it’s time for me to take the next step in my career, as I’m aiming to meet new prestigious objectives. I’m still young and on this team there are all the prerequisites to open an important cycle and assume a major role on the front lines.”
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.