After a disastrous team time trial, Team Sky struck back in the best possible way when Chris Sutton took his debut stage win at a grand tour, out-sprinting Vicente Reynes (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at the end of a disorganised sprint into Playas de Orihuela. The Australian timed his final surge perfectly, jumping in behind Reynes as the Spaniard hit out for the line from the top of the final rise with 300 meters remaining.
Reynes and Suttton opened a substantial gap on the big-name sprinters gathering behind. When Sutton jumped out from behind the Spaniard with 75m remaining, Reynes was not able to respond as the Australian powered past on his right. As Sutton sped clear and celebrated the biggest win of his career, Reynes thumped his bars with frustration. Skil-Shimano's Marcel Kittel was a fast-finishing third, ahead of Garmin-Cervélo's Tyler Farrar.
Sixth place on the stage for Daniele Bennati was enough to move him into the race leader's red jersey at the expense of teammate Jakob Fuglsang, although the two Leopard Trek riders remain tied on overall time.
With his mother at the Vuelta watching him race, 26-year-old Sutton was delighted with his win. "We don't exactly have the perfect lead-out train here but what we do have in the team is strength," said Sutton. "All the boys were fantastic today, they went back and got bidons for me, made sure I had enough food and drink all day. Bradley [Wiggins] looked after me for the last 20km along with Kurt Arvesen. Then I yelled at Thomas Löfkvist to 'Go!' coming out of the roundabout with 2km to go, and he just went straight up the outside and took me to the front.
"I knew it was a hard uphill finish. It kept switching back left and right and then someone from Lotto accelerated and I jumped on his wheel. I thought, 'This is a long way to go.' But I looked back and no one was there. I thought, 'Alright, I've got this one.' To win today is a dream come true. I can't believe it."
A very hot day's work
Despite concerns that one or two riders who crashed in the team time trial in Benidorm might not take to the start, primarily Saxo Bank's Nick Nuyens, a full complement of riders headed out. It didn't take long for the break of the day to form. Paul Martens (Rabobank), Adam Hansen (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Jesús Rosendo (Andalucía-Caja Granada) and Steve Houanard (AG2R-La Mondiale) went clear at the 3km mark as the temperature headed well past the 35-degree mark.
The quartet cooperated well until the final sections of the stage's only climb, the Alto de Relleu, after 28km. Rosendo attacked towards the summit with the aim of claiming the King of the Mountains jersey, but Martens out-sprinted him at the top. Edged out there, Rosendo then set his sights on the sprints jersey, and guaranteed himself a trip to the podium at the end of the stage by winning both intermediates on today's route.
A good day's work for Team Sky
The break's advantage stayed between five and six minutes for most of the stage, until HTC went to the front in the final quarter with the aim of setting up either Mark Cavendish or John Degenkolb. The smooth running of their train was hit, though, when Matt Goss became the race's first abandon.
As the HTC-led peloton closed in on the four escapees, former HTC man Hansen went off on his own. With 32km remaining and the bunch by now less than a minute behind, the Australian's effort was doomed. He stayed clear until 18km from the finish, when the peloton swept past, pushed on by a strong breeze.
With Spain in the middle of its holiday season, impressively large crowds had come out to watch the race as it flashed by some of the country's leading resorts. Inside the closing 10km, HTC was assisted in the pace-setting by Omega Pharma, Rabobank, Skil-Shimano and, ultimately, Leopard Trek, which had the twin aims of keeping Fuglsang out of trouble and setting up Bennati for the final sprint.
Inside the final kilometre, Leopard's Davide Vigano's went to the front and pushed on so hard that he got a gap on the pack, but the Italian was quickly swallowed up on the 5% drag up towards the line. No one team was able to organise an effective lead-out, making it every man for himself. Quick Step's Tom Boonen was briefly prominent, before Reynes made his move and Sutton went with him.
It was a wise move, resulting in the British team's first victory at the Vuelta less than 24 hours on from a rather shambolic showing in the Benidorm team time trial. To cap a great day, it had come less than two hours after Edvald Boasson Hagen had won the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com