Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) claimed the second Vuelta a España stage win of his career and scored an important psychological victory over Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) in an enthralling sprint finish in Lorca. The American roared past Cavendish in the final 100m to take the win, while Koldo Fernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) closed rapidly to take second place on the day.
"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," Farrar said. "Winning always helps to build confidence. There are still a lot of sprints to come at the Vuelta. I'm already happy with one win. Any other one coming after today's would be a bonus."
Race leader Philippe Gilbert finished safely in the bunch to earn another day in the red leader's jersey. His Omega Pharma-Lotto team maintained the difference between the bunch and the escapees under six minutes for most of the stage.
"To have four riders in the lead was the perfect scenario for us," the Belgian said. "It made our day easy."
In the closing kilometres of the stage, rather than the anticipated HTC-Columbia procession, it was the Lampre-Farnese Vini team that headed the peloton in the service of Alessandro Petacchi. Coming under the red kite, it seemed as though Cavendish had missed his lead-out train completely, and it later emerged that he had lost lead-out man Matt Goss to a puncture.
The Manxman is nothing if not resourceful, however, and while Petacchi slumped to 5th in the finishing straight in spite of Danilo Hondo’s expert lead-out, Cavendish picked his way through the chaos to hit the front 400 metres from the line down the right hand side of the road.
However, the normally peerless Cavendish misjudged his effort on this occasion. On the deceptively long finishing straight on the Avenida de Europa, he went far too early in the sprint and died a death in the last 200m.
"My lead-out man Matt Goss punctured with 5km to go. So I had no choice but start sprinting from far. It was hard to hold it for so long," Cavendish explained afterward.
Meanwhile, the canny Farrar had more than enough left in the tank to come around Cavendish and hold on for a win that was more comfortable than he appeared to realize.
"The wind made the sprint a little bit crazy. It was easy for riders to come from behind, but I like this kind of very fast sprint. When Cavendish went on the right, I was able to take his wheel."
Farrar revealed after the stage that he had been feeling poorly last night and this morning, but felt better as the stage went along.
"It was a little strange today because I was alone. Normally in a stage like this, we have riders working at the front but I was not confident after suffering during yesterday's stage. Today I felt better and better. Only with 20km to go I told my teammates that I was up for the sprint,” said Farrar. "I didn't have a real lead-out man since Julian Dean is still injured. In the last 10 kilometres, Matt Wilson did absolutely fantastic work. When he took me where I had to be with 2km to go, it was just up to me after that."